Law School Discussion

Law Students => Current Law Students => Topic started by: Citylaw on June 12, 2014, 06:00:23 PM

Title: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Citylaw on June 12, 2014, 06:00:23 PM
I was recently over hearing a bunch of people arguing about this case at a coffee shop and I know in law school we discussed this briefly, but I wanted to refresh my recollection and that it would make for an interesting thread.

My understanding of the case is as follows:

A conservative group Citizens United wanted to air a documentary bashing Hilary Clinton before the Democratic Primary election. There was a Federal Statute that stood in the way of airing the documentary.

Citizen United filed suit alleging the statute violated their free speech and the documentary should be allowed. The court then decided by a 5-4 funding the documentary was free speech and allowed, which in essence allowed corporations to provide more money to campaigns to protect freedom of speech.

First I was wondering if my understanding is even correct and what people think.

My two cents if my understanding is correct is that groups, corporations, people, etc should be able to say what they want to say, but I understand the argument that is creates an unfair playing field.

Overhearing that conversation made me think of this board and I wanted to see if anyone had additional insight.

Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 12, 2014, 09:44:18 PM
what was the federal statute? Was it just an issue of them not having enough funding to justify being able to air it?
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 13, 2014, 11:06:11 AM
That's pretty much my understanding of the case, too. Admittedly, I haven't actually read the full opinion so I could be wrong.

It's one of those cases where I really can see both sides of the argument, and they both have merit. One the one hand, there is always going to be disparity in economic influence. I mean, Bill Gates and the Koch brothers are going to be able to promote their causes more effectively than most people because they're rich.

Is that fair? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it's unconstitutional.

On the other hand, there is a real danger of becoming a corrupt oligarchy where the government is simply a bought and paid for instrument of the rich. Like the old Roman Senate, a bunch of elites pretending to care about the common people.

Interestingly, this particular phenomenon crosses party lines. I read an article recently about how this is the wealthiest Congress in history. I believe both of my Senators (Feinstein and Boxer) are worth hundreds of millions. Darrell Issa is worth something like  $600 million.

I think it's already at the point where you can't really win without huge personal wealth or the support of SuperPACS. It may not be unconstitutional, but I think the long term effects are probably negative.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 13, 2014, 06:03:16 PM
While we're on the topic of controversial legal issues, I'm curious what you guys think of this.

I was recently having a conversation with some attorneys regarding California's decision to allow undocumented immigrants admission to the bar. The California Supreme Court was ready to strike down the state bar's admission of such individuals, when the legislature stepped in at the last minute and passed a new law allowing undocumented immigrants to gain admission to the bar.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court stated that although they can become licensed they still can't work (!) because only the federal government can confer employment eligibility.

What I found interesting about the conversation was that although the political view of the group was decidedly liberal, opposition to this law was overwhelming. Out of the twenty or so people, maybe one or two thought it was a good idea.

I'm not trying to start an argument about the very complex issue of illegal immigration, but I'm curious what other lawyers and law students think of this.       
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 13, 2014, 07:09:50 PM
It's because people have made it into a "race" issue.
People pretend its about the issue itself, but it is not. It's VERY nation of origin specific.

Think about it for a minute. Even the most self identified "liberals" out there would still have a spasm if they found out he was actually an "undocumented afghani" (they might deny it, but they would) and they sure as hell wouldn't have licensed him.


Cali is famous for being one of the first places to have "legal" pot when it was "illegal" by the feds. I can't imagine that they wouldn't be the same way with this.
I am all but certain he will still practice.

For those not sure who we are talking about :    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/01/02/california-grants-law-license-to-illegal-immigrant/
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 13, 2014, 07:37:30 PM
It's because people have made it into a "race" issue.
If the person had been an illegal French Canadian, he never would have been allowed to be licensed.
It's as simple as that.

I'd have to agree with that.

One of the interesting points that a friend brought up was what this means for the Character and Fitness application. Generally, you're required to be in compliance with the law. I know people who went through hell because of really minor issues.

The legislature has basically said "If we feel sorry for you, you need not obey the law in order to become a lawyer." Honestly, if that's the case, why not be fair and give everyone a freebie? Why confer this huge benefit to only one group?

Here's the other issue: if this gentleman does violate the law by working in the U.S., is there any chance that the bar would discipline him? No way. On the other hand, if you lose your job and fall behind in your child support payments you can get ready to have your licensed suspended.

I hate I when things become this overtly politicized.   
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 13, 2014, 07:39:53 PM
You caught it when I was removing the "white" part.
Oh well.......... :o
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 13, 2014, 07:41:28 PM
I agree with the compliance with the law thing, there are guys denied for owing TOO MUCH STUDENT LOANS!  for crying out loud

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/ohio-supreme-court-denies-law-license-law-grad/story?id=12632984
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 13, 2014, 08:06:48 PM
Well, an illegal French Canadian could be of Haitian or Senegalese origin too! Your point is well taken, it's nation-specific. 
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 13, 2014, 08:52:23 PM
Well, an illegal French Canadian could be of Haitian or Senegalese origin too! Your point is well taken, it's nation-specific.
I survive another day.  8)
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 14, 2014, 11:09:46 AM
I was recently over hearing a bunch of people arguing about this case at a coffee shop and I know in law school we discussed this briefly, but I wanted to refresh my recollection and that it would make for an interesting thread.

My understanding of the case is as follows:

A conservative group Citizens United wanted to air a documentary bashing Hilary Clinton before the Democratic Primary election. There was a Federal Statute that stood in the way of airing the documentary.

Citizen United filed suit alleging the statute violated their free speech and the documentary should be allowed. The court then decided by a 5-4 funding the documentary was free speech and allowed, which in essence allowed corporations to provide more money to campaigns to protect freedom of speech.

First I was wondering if my understanding is even correct and what people think.

My two cents if my understanding is correct is that groups, corporations, people, etc should be able to say what they want to say, but I understand the argument that is creates an unfair playing field.

Overhearing that conversation made me think of this board and I wanted to see if anyone had additional insight.

Your understanding is pretty close but there was a little bit more to this case which made it so controversial.

As you mentioned earlier, this all started back in 2008 when Citizens United, a conservative non-profit corporation, created a 90-minute documentary right before the '08 Democratic Primary urging voters not to vote for Hillary Clinton. It wanted to distribute this movie through cable TV's video-on-demand feature. However, there are Federal Laws in place (at least there were before this ruling) that regulate corportions from spending money when it comes to political elections. One such law was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain–Feingold Act, named after the two senators that proposed it, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI). In a nut shell, the Act prohibited corporations and unions from using their money to (1) make direct contributions to political candidates, or (2) advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate through any form of media. The Act also required corporations or unions to place disclaimers on whatever political ads they made. Citizens United argued that it should be able to show the Hillary movie on-demand (complete without disclaimers) because it has a right to free speech. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) argued that its enforcement of these regulations against corportions and unions was constitutional because, unlike people, neither corporations or unions have a 1st Amendment right to free speech.

The FEC won below and Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled 5-4 down ideological lines that corporations have a 1st Amendment right to free speech AND that right includes the right to spend as much money as they wish in political elections. 

Mind you, the opinion did not say that only American corporations have a 1st Amendment right to spend as much as they want in our elections, it said any corporation. So the holding quite literally allows for foreign interests to influence US elections if they are so inclined.

In addition to that controversy, the opinion also overturned an old precedent Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990).  Austin was a Supreme Court case written by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall that specifically ruled that corporations do NOT have a First Amendment right to free speech because, as Thurgood put it, "[c]orporate wealth can unfairly influence elections." 494 U.S. at 660.  Which I'm sure most people would consider to be common sense. 

In my opinion, the Court got this one wrong. Instead of taking this case as an opportunity to overturn Austin, they should have limited themselves to the problem that was squarely before them which was whether or not McCain-Feingold allowed corporations to put election videos on-demand.  Instead of carving out that narrow restriction, they instead broadened their ruling so as to allow corporations and unions to spend unlimited money in elections under the pretext of "free speech."  By my view, we should be trying to get money OUT of our elections, not coming up with ways to put even more money into them.

My 2 cents for what it's worth.

 
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 14, 2014, 07:13:48 PM
but.........."Corporations are people too!"
 ::)



I won't be shocked if someday corporate types find a way to let corporations vote, and then that somehow snowballs into a 3/5 vote based on how many illegal immigrants that can't vote they have working in their sweatshops........... :P

Dystopian? Sure. But talk to a person in their 90's about how different the world was in their 20's and look how much the courts view of the constitution has changed since then (in ways that were "never gonna happen") At any given moment, Judge Dredd is only a few supreme court decision away.

http://www.freakingnews.com/pictures/74500/Elena-Kagan-Judgement-Day--74958.jpg
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 15, 2014, 09:09:55 AM
Ha! I don't know if we're going to do the Judge Dredd route, but we're definitely not too far away from corporations being full out people, complete with voting rights, rights to privacy, rights to reproduction and all other rights that people currently enjoy under the Constitution. Especially under the John Roberts Court. He seems to be very adamant about skewing the law in favor of all things corporate.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 15, 2014, 12:40:09 PM
Ha! I don't know if we're going to do the Judge Dredd route, but we're definitely not too far away from corporations being full out people, complete with voting rights, rights to privacy, rights to reproduction and all other rights that people currently enjoy under the Constitution. Especially under the John Roberts Court. He seems to be very adamant about skewing the law in favor of all things corporate.

I wonder if someday antitrust merger laws could be overcome by "marriage" ? Seems crazy but I could see some lawyer taking a swing at it
As for reproductive rights, I guess firing all of its top heavy staff could be an "abortion" maybe???

I don't know, that may be a stretch. But Judge Dred would be a cool job. Drone attacks on US citizens abroad without due process kind of feels like Dred meets Robocop a bit though.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 16, 2014, 04:06:21 PM
Ha! I don't know if we're going to do the Judge Dredd route, but we're definitely not too far away from corporations being full out people, complete with voting rights, rights to privacy, rights to reproduction and all other rights that people currently enjoy under the Constitution. Especially under the John Roberts Court. He seems to be very adamant about skewing the law in favor of all things corporate.

I wonder if someday antitrust merger laws could be overcome by "marriage" ? Seems crazy but I could see some lawyer taking a swing at it
As for reproductive rights, I guess firing all of its top heavy staff could be an "abortion" maybe???

I don't know, that may be a stretch. But Judge Dred would be a cool job. Drone attacks on US citizens abroad without due process kind of feels like Dred meets Robocop a bit though.

Good point.  I do not agree with the Justice Department's interpretation with the Due Process clause when it comes to drone strikes of American citizens abroad.  The Constitution doesn't say that your rights end after you leave the continental United States.  And more to the point, we have Due Process specifically so that the Executive Branch can't do this kind of thing.  The Executive must prove it's case in a court of law before executing somebody.  Period.  That's the cornerstone of American criminal law.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Citylaw on June 17, 2014, 08:26:33 AM
Great responses Burning Sands.

It is unfortunate money plays such a role in elections, but I still think people should be allowed to spend their money how they wish.

It is up to the voters think for themselves and not be fooled by expensive campaign funds I don't think legislating the issue or blocking people is the right approach and the Supreme Court agrees for now, but I can definitely see the issue being revisited.

It is an interesting debate and great summary of the issues in the case.

Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 17, 2014, 12:00:41 PM
Great responses Burning Sands.

It is unfortunate money plays such a role in elections, but I still think people should be allowed to spend their money how they wish.

It is up to the voters think for themselves and not be fooled by expensive campaign funds I don't think legislating the issue or blocking people is the right approach and the Supreme Court agrees for now, but I can definitely see the issue being revisited.

It is an interesting debate and great summary of the issues in the case.

I think there are 2 separate ideas being conflated here.  One is the right to spend your money however you want to, which I agree is fine.  The other is whether whether spending money is a first amendment right to free speech.  I think this stretches the meaning of free speech a bit too far.

I think people should be (and are) free to spend their money however, whenever and on whatever they want, just not the Presidential election.  Obviously money can buy influence and corrput the process, and for that reason alone it should be regulated in our elections and not treated as a first amendment right.  If we say that spending money = free speech, then we're admitting that rich people have more of 1st Amendment right than poor people.  I don't think that's what the founders intended when they drafted it. 
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 17, 2014, 12:59:07 PM
I think there are 2 separate ideas being conflated here.  One is the right to spend your money however you want to, which I agree is fine.  The other is whether whether spending money is a first amendment right to free speech.  I think this stretches the meaning of free speech a bit too far.

It seems almost impossible to separate these issues, though. If the Koch brothers decide to make a documentary about Obama, but are limited on how much they can spend making the documentary, isn't that limitation on free speech?

I am highly critical of the corrupting influence that money has on politics. I don't want to see this country become an oligarchy.

However, there will always be economic inequality. I don't think it's a question of whether the rich have more free speech than the rest of us. They do, however, have a greater ability to promote their views. They also have a greater ability to buy big houses and send their kids to better schools. It's one of the benefits of being rich. And yeah, it bothers me.

But at the same time, the guy from Occupy who camps out in front of LA City Hall also has a greater ability to promote his views than I do, because I have to go to work and can't afford play guitar in front of my tent all day.

I'm not really sure what the answer is, but it seems that by limiting the amount that people can spend on speech you will affect the content.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Maintain FL 350 on June 17, 2014, 01:03:00 PM
Forgot to add:

Citizens United is a corporation. That part definitely bothers me. A corporation is a purely legal entity, and it not at all clear that corporations should be granted the same rights that we as individuals hold.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 17, 2014, 03:29:15 PM
And that's the worst part about the holding in this case.  A corporate entity is still legal fiction created for the sole purpose of doing business while limiting the liability of its owners. It seems awfully inconsistent with the purpose of the Constitution to afford Constitutional rights on an entity that doesn't have a soul and cannot be held accountable for its actions outside of monetary fines.
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 17, 2014, 04:43:20 PM
And that's the worst part about the holding in this case.  A corporate entity is still legal fiction created for the sole purpose of doing business while limiting the liability of its owners. It seems awfully inconsistent with the purpose of the Constitution to afford Constitutional rights on an entity that doesn't have a soul and cannot be held accountable for its actions outside of monetary fines.

Maybe, but if you punish a thing like a person don't you need to be able to give it rights like a person?
Maybe someday they will remove the "personhood" of corporations (I am ok with it either way) but as a side thought on it, aren't they conduits of REAL people too though. I have yet to see a self aware autonomous corporation that isn't run by real people with real thoughts/opinions/emotions.

albeit all those people get their own votes as themselves, but just to put a spark of humanity into it is all
Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Citylaw on June 17, 2014, 05:57:13 PM
Nicely debate issues.

 I still side with Maintain , but Burning makes a great point that Corporations are not subject to anything other than fines.

At the end of the day however, corporations are run by people who can be prosecuted see Enron for criminal acts. If the people working at the corporation want to spend their money to promote an agenda that seems like free speech.

At the end day however, if individuals or members of a corporation want to spend money to support a presidential candidate, congressional candidate, etc then it is their choice.  I think spending money is a form of speech, but plenty of reasonable people will disagree with me. For any potential law students the debate of what is speech was one of the most interesting things in law school and this case is great for that issue.

Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: Burning Sands, Esq. on June 17, 2014, 07:56:55 PM
Even if we accept that spending money is free speech, and further accept that corporations have a 1st Amendment right to it, that still doesn't take into consideration that no right is absolute. All of our constitutional rights are subject to reasonable restrictions by the state and federal governments.  That includes the 1st Amendment.  Under the 1st Amendment, we have the right to free speech, but states can still make laws that prevent us from making threats to other people or from yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.  Why should this be any different? 

Or perhaps the better question is this: why should a corporation have an absolute right to free speech when human beings do not?

Title: Re: Citizens United Case Debate?
Post by: barprephero on June 17, 2014, 09:29:55 PM
Everything is "free speech" or expression if you want it to be

If USEING money is speech then wouldn't NOT using it be too????

"Dear US govt, I wish to use my speech rights to not pay you my student loans to express my.....um.........love for poodles or whatever...........NO MONEY!!!!!"