Supreme Court justices question campaign finance law
At a hearing Wednesday on 'Hillary: The Movie,' conservative justices repeatedly asked whether limits on corporate contributions in federal elections are too broad and amount to censorship of free speech.
The US Supreme Court appears poised to pare back campaign finance reform measures that sharply restrict corporate expenditures during federal campaigns.Skip to next paragraph
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At issue in a special hearing Wednesday was whether the court should strike down two legal precedents that bar corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political speech during campaign season.
Although it is difficult to predict how the high court may rule based solely on the questions the justices ask during oral argument, several analysts say five of the nine justices appear united in their skepticism over the two measures.
"We don't put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats," Chief Justice John Roberts said at one point, referring to staff members of the Federal Election Commission which enforces the campaign finance laws.
Three justices, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas, are on record opposing the two provisions. By the end of the 80-minute oral argument, it appeared that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are prepared to vote with their colleagues on the court's conservative wing.
Conservative justices repeatedly raised questions about whether the campaign finance restrictions on corporations were too broad and all-encompassing to pass constitutional muster.
At the same time, the court's liberal wing remained united in the view that the corporate restrictions were justified by Congressional concern about the corruptive and distorting influence of corporate dollars in federal campaigns. Some also suggested that it was unfair for corporations to use shareholder money to pursue political goals.
Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and the court's newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, repeatedly stressed that the court should identify narrower grounds to decide the case rather than overturning established legal precedents.
But the conservatives – including Roberts and Alito – seemed determined to correct what they view as an error of constitutional import.
The 'Hillary' documentary
The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, involves a decision by the FEC to block video-on-demand broadcasts of a 90-minute documentary attacking the potential presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The film, "Hillary: The Movie," was produced by a conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United. The group complained that the FEC action was an unconstitutional form of government censorship of political speech.