The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that government is out of the business of regulating corporate political speech.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the 5-to-4 majority “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
The Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205 put into law what government has long accepted, that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech.
Furthermore, the ruling answered Solicitor General Elena Kagen’s statement that raised an audible breath from the Supreme Court in a comment to opposing council in March when the case was first argued. Kagen said Congress has constitutional powers over not only television and cable during an election but also book publications. Therefore, it would be a crime if a corporation published a political book during an election time.
Kegan’s interpretation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, usually called the McCain-Feingold, and its more narrowing interpretation in 2007 was shocking. Without the Court’s ruling, political speech could be at risk not only in books but also in newspapers, on television news programs and on blogs.
No longer do bloggers have to wonder whether their speech could be regulated by law as corporations help get out their message. At the same time, the Court ended the confusion of which laws affect which corporations and prudently upheld the ban on direct contributions to candidates.
Though dissenters see all sorts of terrible effects on society and the political process, Congress can require corporations to disclose their political speech and spending and require them to run disclaimers with their advertising. Then, we’d all know and can judge for ourselves whether their viewpoints have any merit. America can do that.