Judicial Watch • JW Fights for Free Speech in Amicus Curiae Brief Filed with Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC

JW Fights for Free Speech in Amicus Curiae Brief Filed with Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC

JW Fights for Free Speech in Amicus Curiae Brief Filed with Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC

AUGUST 03, 2009

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of free speech in the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In its brief, filed on July 30, Judicial Watch argues that the Federal Election Commission’s decision to ban (under McCain-Feingold) the broadcast of a Citizens United documentary about Hillary Clinton during the presidential election season violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court, which took the unusual step of ordering special oral arguments in the lawsuit on September 9, will now decide whether to overturn two High Court precedents (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission) that restrict corporate speech.

Judicial Watch’s brief, advanced four principle arguments:

  1. Political Speech Is at the Heart of the First Amendment and Is Entitled to the Broadest Protection:

    The [Supreme] Court…was solicitous to protect political speech not only as a matter of individual liberty, and not only because it was the intention of the Framers, but because political speech is crucial to the survival of our representative government and its system of ordered liberty. This principle, in turn, presupposes that First Amendment protection of political speech is the precondition of all other freedoms protected by the Constitution.

  2. Unlike Contributions to Candidates, Independent Expenditures, Which Are Not Coordinated with a Candidate or Campaign, Do Not Pose a Danger of Corruption or its Appearance:

    In essence, because as a nation we value free speech so highly, our government is permitted to regulate it only where the government’s interest is compelling and only to the extent absolutely necessary to achieve that interest… Independent expenditures…are not coordinated with a candidate or campaign [and] do not pose a danger of corruption or its appearance. This is because a candidate does not necessarily benefit from (and may well even be harmed by) an expenditure that is made independently of his campaign.

  3. This Court Has Consistently Invalidated Legislative Attempts at Limiting or Restricting Corporate Expenditures as Violative of First Amendment Free Speech:

    Clearly, this Court has consistently held that independent expenditures are protected speech which require the broadest protection by the First Amendment. This Court has also consistently invalidated legislative attempts at limiting or restricting corporate expenditures as violative of First Amendment free speech because the government’s interest in preventing corruption and the appearance thereof is inapplicable to independent expenditures, as there is no threat of a political quid pro quo with this type of core independent political expression.

  4. Austin and McConnell Deviated from Established Precedent, and, as a Result, Should Be Overruled by this Court:

    In Austin, the Court addressed a state statute that prohibited corporations from using "corporate treasury funds for independent expenditures in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate in elections for state office"…. The Court did not find that the state had proven the existence of quid pro quo corruption or its appearance, "the only legitimate and compelling government interes[t] thus far identified for restricting campaign finances," NCPAC, 470 U.S. at 496, 497, but invented a new species of corruption: "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas." Austin, 494 U.S. at 654.

    In McConnell, the Court upheld against a First Amendment challenge Congress’ amendment of the FECA provision prohibiting corporate independent expenditures…In short, McConnell suppresses speech that this Court has unambiguously held cannot be suppressed. It "compounds the error made in Austin…and silences political speech central to the civic discourse that sustains and informs our democratic processes." McConnell, 540 U.S. at 323 (Kennedy, J., Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, J., dissenting).

"McCain-Feingold violates the First Amendment by preventing watchdog groups organized as corporations from using their own money independently to talk about politicians and public policy issues. As it relates to Judicial Watch, this law could prevent us from telling the truth about corrupt politicians close to an election," stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

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