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A case brief/ court opinion is an analytical document that explores the salient features of an appellate court decision. It outlines all the relevant facts and legal issues that influence a court’s decision on a given appellate case. As such, a written brief is particularly vital to the understanding of judicial issues and especially appellate cases. This paper presents a written case brief of an appellate case between Citizens United and Federal Electoral Commission determined in 2010.
This case, No. 08-205, is an appeal from the United States district court of Columbia. It was first argued on March 24th 2009 and reargued September 9th 2009. Its determination was in January 21st 2010.
This case was in pursuant of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), otherwise known as the McCain–Feingold Act, 2 U.S.C. § 441b. This act restricts corporations and unions from funding any electioneering communications within 30days or 60 days of a primary and general election respectively. However, the act has provision for unions and corporations to form a political action committee (PAC), to run their political agenda like direct advocacy for a given candidate as long as they do not draw funds from the general treasury. The act also allows independent persons to fund any electioneering communication of their choice.
In this case, Citizens United which is a conservative non-profit organization had sought to air a political documentary featuring senator Hillary Clinton. Their action was motivated by FEC’s decision of allowing the running of Fahrenheit 9/11 political documentary during the 2004 campaign. However, their plans were thwarted by United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The court ruled that such an action violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 outlawing "electioneering communications" 30 days before party conventions. This however, is not entirely true because of the following reasons: First, the outlawing of Hillary: the movie on grounds that it is funded by a corporation culminates into usurping of fundamental freedom of speech. Secondly, the fact that Hillary is not publicly distributed disqualifies it as an electioneering communication covered by §441b.
These two reasons clearly shows that FEC has violated Citizen United’s right to free speech and that the lower court did not observe this constitutional rights. The court of appeal therefore, overrules the decision of the lower court with an intention of ensuring that fundamental rights are preserved in line with the first amendment. It is necessary to pinpoint that the court of appeal’s action is guided by the difference between judicial restraint and judicial abdication. From this difference, overruling prior decisions are necessary. However, the court of appeal seems to have overstepped its mandate by failing to deal decisively with corporations’ clear desire to undermine elections. American people have always wanted dignified elections with minimal manipulation from any company or group of person.
The Facts of the Case and the holding.
The court has somehow overlooked this by partly granting corporate funds to election kitty. Election kitty is a pool of money contributed for the purpose of funding election campaigns for a particular party or individual. The court of appeal held that Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 will not apply to Hillary the Movie because it is not publicly distributed. It also states that that §441b will not be applied to Hillary under Federal Election commission vs. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U. S. 449 because communication advising citizens to vote wisely is not illegal. Consequently, Citizens United won, which led to allowing foreign corporations to contribute to our national elections.
Rules, Maxims, Doctrines.
The implication of the case on society covers the socio-political and economic spheres. Politically, there will be an influx of specific interest money seeking to establish governments that will serve the interests of such financiers. This will have a negative impact on United States democracy. Socially, a new crop of leaders with selfish interest will most certainly have their way backed with fat campaign accounts. This will affect service delivery to the people. Service delivery here refers to the government’s duty of ensuring that people’s socio-economic needs are met. Economically, financial institutions and Wall Street will have immense power to decide who wins the election as they are now free to bankroll campaigns.
The dissenting opinions in this case were along general fears that the court's decision lacked the people’s interests. Justice Stevens quotes that the decision will most certainly undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. Concurrences emphasized that freedom of speech includes the corporate worlds too (Scalia opinion).