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Topics Homepage> The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision does more good than harm

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision does more good than harm

PRO (5 assertions)


Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. The 5–4 decision originated in a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation Citizens United could air a film critical of Hillary Clinton, and whether the group could advertise the film in broadcast ads featuring Clinton's image, in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act in reference to its primary Senate sponsors.


Define: Good than harm- In protecting our Constitutional rights


1. Assertion: The Supreme Court decision upholds the Constitution

Reasoning: The United States follows a set of codes listed in the U.S. Constitution. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and decide whether certain pieces of legislation are “Constitutional.” The Court consequently ruled that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (The McCain-Feingold Act), which stated that corporations cannot fund campaigns, was unconstitutional because the 1st Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. The Court, led by Justice Kennedy, held that the First Amendment stands against attempts to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. In doing so, the Court declared that the government cannot impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers such as corporations. In Citizen’s United case, the Supreme Court was merely upholding the rules of the Constitution, and they did their job determining that the BCRA was unconstitutional.

Evidence: “If the First Amendment has any force,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “it prohibits Congress from limiting the freedom of speech in the form of regulations on who can utilize it and how they utilize it. This includes such things as corporations using money to fund political campaigns.”

Source: First Amendment, Huffington Post

2. Assertion: Speech is necessary for a democracy

Reasoning: Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy and the means to hold officials accountable to the people. As such, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it. Those who criticize this decision have lost sight of a basic truth: the answer to speech they disagree with is not to restrict that speech, but to answer it with more speech. This decision will ensure that, as Justice Kennedy said twenty years ago in his dissent in the Austin case, there is no stifling of “the voices of some of the most respected groups in public life on subjects central to the integrity of our democratic system.” The First Amendment specifically says that Congress shall pass no law abridging the right to speak.

Evidence: Judge Scalia, “The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speakers, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals…Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate.”

Source: The Heritage Network

3. Assertion: Corporations are people

Reasoning: Corporations are founded by people. Large corporations, which employ millions of people, unions, with millions of members, and organizations, with millions of participants, are given a collective voice by the Citizens United decision. Corporations, judge, represent a group of people with like-minded interests, the same way a politician represents his party, Democrat or Republican, in Congress. Don’t think of a corporation as “Chevron” or “McDonald’s”. Rather, that corporation represents the tens of millions employed by Chevron, the hundreds of millions who get their gas from Chevron, and the millions of shareholders from Chevron. Corporations just represent a large amount of people. Just like rich people have a lot of money, corporations have a lot of money. Disallowing corporations from donating to political campaigns is like saying that Bill Gates can’t donate because he has so much money.

Evidence: They still maintain 1st Amendment rights. “The government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity.” Justice Kennedy.

4. Assertion: Unlimited spending lets candidates focus on message over fundraising.

Reasoning: One of the main problems in elections is that candidates are typically strapped for cash, and often must spend the majority of their time fundraising, instead of focusing on their message. Unlimited corporate spending, in addition to unlimited political party spending and individual donorship would allow candidates to focus on their message, the changes they want to make, their plans for governing or voting while in office, and on informing the general public about these plans so that they can make a more informed decision about their vote.

Evidence: Capital University Law School professor Bradley A. Smith, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and a long-term campaign finance reform opponent, wrote that the major opponents of political free speech are "incumbent politicians, shocked by the apparent tectonic shift in politics of late" who "are keen to maintain a chokehold on such speech." Empowering "small and midsize corporations—and every incorporated mom-and-pop falafel joint, local firefighters’ union, and environmental group—to make its voice heard" frightens them because it breaks their damaging stranglehold on existing seats, which exist largely because they are able to raise more money than prospective up-start rivals.

Assertions #5

CON (5 assertions)

No framework

1. Assertion: Allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace corrupts democracy

Reasoning: Too much corporate money means the creation of too many political advertisements. Such advertisements can completely destroy the reputation of federal figures, and essentially, political warfare would be waged solely through these advertisements. These political ads will cloud the minds of the public, and they ruin the concept of democracy. Big companies already use their voices to drown out the voices of Americans in federal legislature, and the verdict of the Supreme Court does not help democracy flourish any bit. In this case, big corporations will be spending their money on political ads, trying to convince the people to vote in their cause, taking their sense of judgment and twisting it. In no way does this promote democracy.

Evidence: 85% of Americans already feel that corporations have too much power in our democracy and that the people have too little.

Source: New York Times

2. Assertion: Elections should be about what the people want

Reasoning: Corporations are not people. The ruling of the Supreme Court allows wealthy business corporations, who do not necessarily reflect the views of the people, to create advertisements promoting a candidate in their favor. Democracy is entirely about the people. The government is made for the people, by the people, and not by corporations. Whereas people want things like good jobs, a responsible government, and a clean environment, corporations can destroy such things. Though people may be spending millions of hours trying to vote for someone and promote them, corporations can spend millions of dollars in the matter of seconds to get a lawmaker in office.

Evidence: Oil companies like Chevron have gotten politicians to block laws protecting our climate. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was indicted for failing to disclose gifts he received from VECO Corporation, an Alaska-based oil services company. Manufacturing companies have pushed through trade agreements that gut product safety and help ship jobs overseas. For example, in Congress, in September 2010, many House politicians voted against closing tax loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas five times even as millions of jobless Americans are looking for work, clearly influenced by manufacturing companies. Insurance companies have been the first ones consulted on health reform and giant corporations have received federal bail-outs and subsidies.

Sources: PBS News, New York Post

3. Assertion: Corporations are not people

Reasoning: The Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the right to say whatever they want because of the First Amendment. This only exists if the concept that corporations are people holds true. But we must realize that corporations are not people. Corporations are formed by people, yes, but they exist independently of the people who own them. If a corporation does something that gets it into trouble, the owners say not to blame the shareholders, but to blame the corporation. In this sense, the corporation is merely a scapegoat. Secondly, unlike people who are driven by all kinds of motivations – protecting the planet, being a good citizen – corporations solely exist for the purpose of moneymaking and to maximize value for shareholders. Though people run these corporations, human motivation comes second. Imagine someone saying, “All I care about is money.” It’s not someone you would entrust your child with, or your democracy, or your rights, for that matter. Do corporations have the right to marriage? Do they have a right to Habeas Corpus? No, they do not have the rights of the people, for they are not people!

4. Assertion: Giving corporations “free speech” defeats the people’s “free speech”

Reasoning: Corporations have thousands of times more money than does the common American citizen. It virtually drowns out the people’s voices, corrupting our political system. Our democracy, founded “by the people, for the people, of the people,” has a clouded future thanks to the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. Also, when one realizes that these corporations are multi-national, foreign companies, the Citizen’s United takes away political power from the average American and puts it into foreign executives, with no interest to benefit the American people.

Evidence: With the Supreme Court’s decision, corporations can now spend unlimited amounts of money without even consulting shareholders to promote a candidate who will do what they ask. If the top 100 corporations decided to throw in 1% of their profits, they could outspend every candidate for Senate, House, and the Presidency combined! Where is the free speech in that? It is destroyed by the Supreme Court’s decision. An even bigger example of money is in this: In 2010, the kind of independent groups that corporations are now allowed to support spend $300 million! That’s more than every midterm election since 1990 combined.


Assertions #5