MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Here's What You Won’t Hear About Citizens United at the Democratic National Convention This Week

Forget Hillary Clinton and forget the DNC, Citizens United was about free speech prevailing over government censorship.

White House / Flickr.comWhite House / Flickr.comOn March 24, 2009, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart told the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal government had the lawful power to ban books if those books happened to mention the name of a candidate for federal office and were published in the run-up to the federal election in which that candidate was competing.

"It's a 500-page book, and at the end it says, so vote for X, the government could ban that?" asked an incredulous Chief Justice John Roberts. Yes, the deputy solicitor general conceded, according to the government's theory of the present case, the government could indeed ban that book. "We could prohibit the publication of the book using the corporate treasury funds," Stewart said.

At issue before the Supreme Court that morning was a little dispute known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Perhaps you've heard something about it. If you haven't, you certainly will this week as the Democratic National Convention gets rolling in Philadelphia. Attacking Citizens United has become something of a pastime among certain types of liberal Democrats. Former MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann, for instance, once famously claimed that Citizens United "might actually have more dire implications than Dred Scott," the 1857 case which helped trigger the Civil War.

Thankfully, the 2016 Democratic Party Platform does not go full Olbermann. But it does complain that "Citizens United has fundamentally transformed our democracy" while calling for the case to be overturned by either constitutional amendment or by a future Supreme Court majority. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has repeatedly vowed to impose an anti-Citizens United litmus test on all of her judicial nominees.

Needless to say, you won't hear much at the DNC this week about how the federal government once tried to claim the power to ban books in its losing Citizens United argument. Nor will you hear much about the fact that the ACLU−nobody's idea of a conservative outfit−actively sided with Citizens United and filed a brief that opposed the government's censorious position (Floyd Abrams, the legendary First Amendment lawyer who previously battled the Nixon administration in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, likewise came down on the side of Citizens United).

So ignore Hillary Clinton and ignore the DNC. Citizens United was about free speech prevailing over government censorship. The Supreme Court got it right.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • PapayaSF||

  • Ted S.||

    And after Benghazi she tried to blame it on a Youtube video and squelch free speech.

  • The Fusionist||

    I tried to explain the part about the book-banning, and what I got was a frustrated, "why are you going over these abstruse details, this is about how corporations aren't people!"

  • Zeb||

    I love haw they always bring that up. It has nothing at all to do with corporate personhood. It's absurd to suggest that the first amendment doesn't apply to corporations and other cooperative enterprises.

  • Sevo||

    "It's absurd to suggest that the first amendment doesn't apply to corporations and other cooperative enterprises."

    Precisely. A1 applies to the *government*, prohibiting certain actions.

  • John||

    What is really absurd Zeb is why the 1st Amendment wouldn't apply to corporations and the other Amendments somehow would. If corporations are not "people" for the purposes of the 1st, they are not people for the purposes of any of the other amendments. That means they have no due process rights or right to compensation if the government seizes their property.

  • Sir Digby Chicken Caesar||

    Feature, not bug!

    /prog

  • esteve7||

    so does the NY times have freedom of the press? I mean if corporations don't have rights....

  • The Fusionist||

    see below

  • Fairbanks||

    You get further along in the conversation then I do. Most of the time when I hear someone complaining about Citizens United and I ask what the problem is they almost always rail about the Supreme Court removing restrictions on campaign contributions. By the time I've explained to them the basics of the case, and they have decided I actually know what I'm talking about, they're tired of the topic. And probably too embarrassed to go on.

  • Zeb||

    "Citizens United has fundamentally transformed our democracy"

    Yeah, it's made things a bit less under the control of the party establishments. No wonder they hate it. I'm surprised more Republicans aren't against it, really.

  • The Fusionist||

    I also got annyoed reactions when I asked (a) what if any First Amendment rights does The New York Times Company have, and (b) do other corporations have fewer rights and (c) if so, why?

  • esteve7||

    critical thinking is hard when all you have is feels

  • ||

    A- all of them
    B-yes
    C- FYTW

  • Ted S.||

    They think freedom of the press just means journalists have rights; not that anyone has the freedom to publish (in whatever manner) what they want.

  • SimonD||

    It's even more restrictive than that. They think that only THEIR journalists have rights; they think government (but only Democrat-run government) has the authority to decide who's a journalist and worthy of 1st Amendment rights, and who isn't.

  • esteve7||

    ask your leftist friends if unions should be held to the same standard as corporations so then why AHAHAHAHAHAHA couldn't finish is.

    Principals not Principles

  • C. Anacreon||

    C'mon, the whole reason they are leftists is that they want no corporations at all, those rich institutions who abuse us. Much better that the power is concentrated in the all-beneficent state.

  • SadlyShakingHead||

    Also ask if they support the defunding of The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

  • Glide||

    But corporations aren't people!

    And unions are because mumble mumble mumble

  • Tom Bombadil||

    They're against it for the same reasons.

    And you're stupid.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    About as good as your first post.

  • arbitrary wavefunction||

    Are you against the concept of addiction because you're stupid or because you're smart?

  • arbitrary wavefunction||

    And now for some basic astronomy: Stars run on nuclear fusion: converting hydrogen to helium. What happens when they run out of fuel? Small stars will collapse into a 'brown dwarf', never to be heard from again. A special few, if sufficiently massive, will implode into themselves triggering another explosion so strong it causes a supernova that can be seen throughout the universe – sometimes they are even brighter than the star's own galaxy – which is composed of billions of other similar stars. The explosion leaves an inner mass known as a 'black hole', which has a gravitational field so strong that nothing can escape it, even light.
    ...

    Similarly, a drug addict will eventually 'run out of fuel', which is the state where their brain is sufficiently close to enlightenment that drugs are no longer needed ("they no longer worked for me"), but the addict is so stigmatized by society due to their behavior that they have no other options. The brain rewires itself in increasingly convoluted and unpredictable ways in an effort to apprehend itself – but this is a physical impossibility. It knows not what it is capable of. This is the essence of Marxian 'active plasticity'. Like a moth to the flame, the compulsion may trigger one last ditch but doomed attempt. The result is a quantum collapse – a singularity – from which no thought can escape.

    Addiction==astrophysics. Copy that.

  • straffinrun||

    AddictionMyth thinks autistic children are snowflakes that need to be told to "fuck off" by police. Interesting fella that AM.

  • The Fusionist||

    I can still hear the TV in the background.

    It's probably the Dem convention because I heard the phrase "only industrialized nation."

    Hillary Clinton - working mom, grandmother, equal pay for equal work...responsibility to one another...

    OK, good night.

  • AdamJ||

    I posted to Faceface this week that someone really ought to make a Trump movie to try to dissuade people from voting for him. Got tons of likes. Nobody got the implication.

  • John||

    That is quality trolling. My compliments.

  • Wasteland Wanderer||

    It could be made by a production company with the term "Citizens" in its title somewhere. Citizens United Together, perhaps.....

  • PapayaSF||

    "Citizens"?!? You racist! You are excluding the undocumented!

  • dantheserene||

    This is so awesome I'm going to try it myself.

  • Glide||

    Well done. That's about the most basic level of satire possible, and it tickles me that it still goes over the heads of a bunch of people who think they're satirical geniuses because they shared a Jon Stewart clip once.

  • John||

    But the Democrats make up for wanting to repeal the first Amendment by also wanting to repeal the second.

    James O'Keefe has struck again and gotten a Hillary delegate to drop the mask on camera and explain what "common sense gun control" actually means.

    http://www.infowars.com/video-.....t-gun-ban/

  • esteve7||

    yes but we all knew that already

    progs truly are evil because they think it's ok to lie, since people would never buy their horseshit if they told the truth. Remember gruber and Obamacare?

  • John||

    Of course everyone already knew that. It is just nice to see it confirmed. They are lying scum.

  • Rebel Scum||

    O'Keefe is a national treasure.

  • John||

    Progs think of themselves as being smarter than the rest of us but in reality they are a total bunch of rubes. They are so easy to bait.

  • Rebel Scum||

    They are so easy to bait.

    In my experience, they completely lack the ability to take in new information and draw some conclusion from it. They ALWAYS project onto me. I find these two things make them difficult to debate, not bc they make good arguments, but bc they are incapable of arguing, period. That said, it is fun to throw undeniable facts into their faces and watch them contort themselves to try to dismiss it. Also, I like to pepper in "incendiary" terms (Hitlery, Queen Vaginia, Caramel Nixon, President Teleprompter, etc.). Might as well have some fun, I figure.

  • John||

    One of my prog friends on Facebook was losing his shit this weekend about Trump having a real chance to win and be President. I commented by saying "You know if Mitt Romney had been given a fair shot by the media, he would likely have won the election and there would be no danger of Trump being President today." Much yelling and spitting and hilarity ensued.

  • Rebel Scum||

    if Mitt Romney had been given a fair shot by the media

    Remember, he was "hitler" too. He was gonna throw grandma off of a cliff. That's something hitler would do. It's hitlers all the way down.

    Much yelling and spitting and hilarity ensued.

    That's the best part. Trouble is, they leave feeling like they have "won" the debate when, by any objective standard, they absolutely have not.

  • PapayaSF||

    Hilarious, true, brilliant comment. I'm not brave enough to risk the FB storm that would ensue if I wrote that.

  • kbolino||

    "You know if Mitt Romney had been given a fair shot by the media, he would likely have won the election and there would be no danger of Trump being President today."

    I say something similar every time I hear some lefty whinging about how god-awful Trump is. Well, the Republicans put forward the exact sort of person you claim to want, and you treated him just as bad. You don't want "reasonable" Republicans, you want no Republicans.

    Sadly, I do not have such a pithy retort for the alleged Republicans who would sooner vote for Clinton than Trump.

  • MotörSteve||

    "So ignore Hillary Clinton and ignore the DNC."
    ^^^This^^^

  • John||

    http://dailycaller.com/2016/07.....intenance/

    Those damned histrionic queers are so high maintenance. It if funny as hell to see these people break every bullshit PC rule they seek to inflict on the rest of us.

  • arbitrary wavefunction||

    I recently took a shot at the dimwit who wrote this email for writing like a ghetto high school student.

    And here we have a slightly different problem, from a different person:

    "Darrin would like to become more involved but he is hard to get in touch with and is extremely high maintenance," Lahl went on to complain. "I found him to be too much work for what he is worth (maybe a 5k check)."

    Who puts shit like this in writing?! The grammar, in this case, is fine. It's the concept (more specifically, the number) that shouldn't be put in black-and-white. It's obviously meant as an insult.

  • Sir Digby Chicken Caesar||

    "my peeps"????

    My God, and they have the nerve to bitch that conservatives are behind the times.

  • John||

    Someone who is an overgrown child and has no judgement and is unprofessional does that. And remember, these people who are high in the DNC and in the Hillary campaign would be taking positions of huge responsibility in any Hillary Administration. Doesn't that just give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about such an administration?

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Not to worry. Their idiot cousins are already working in government now. I have little doubt that if Trump (or really anyone else) won, other idiots would be filling the same holes in the org charts.

  • Some Chick from OH||

    From Fox's live blog of the DNC con:

    "A rare moment of unity among Bernie and Hillary fans as many join hands and sway in the convention hall as Paul Simon serenades them with 'Bridge over Troubled Water.'"

    It's only the first night, and they already had to resort to the ultimate musical tranquilizer dart.

  • arbitrary wavefunction||

    That is the corniest thing I've ever heard.

  • John||

    By Thursday they will have someone up there singing "We Shall Overcome" or "Blowing in the Wind" to keep there from being a riot.

  • Seamus||

    Don't forget "Imagine."

  • John||

    https://twitter.com/ABC/status/757698632606941189

    So the FBI says it was the Russians. And the FBI has so much credibility these days as a non partisan agency. And how the fuck would the FBI know that? The FBI is a domestic law enforcement agency. They are not an intelligence agency. If anyone would know this it would be the CIA or the NSA not the FBI. Curiously, those agencies seem to want no part of this circus. I guess the FBI figures it has nothing to lose at this point and fear a Trump Presidency more than being the internal secret police for a Hillary one.

  • Seamus||

    "The FBI is a domestic law enforcement agency. They are not an intelligence agency."

    They deal with espionage, when it occurs in this country. Remember Colonel Abel?

  • PapayaSF||

    It's still hilarious. Hillary's minions have been dismissing her email server issues with: "But there's no proof her email server was ever hacked!"

    Suddenly it's: "The Russians hacked our email server! You don't want Russia's preferred candidate to win, do you?"

    "But for decades you wanted Russia's preferred candidate to win."

  • SadlyShakingHead||

    Progressives know all kinds of things about freedom of speech: Citizens United was about corporate personhood, the Supreme Court once decided a case where somebody had shouted "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech, the candidate with the most money wins, and the only rich people who try and influence elections with their filthy lucre are the Koch Brothers, who outspend everybody -- even the Unions. The fact that it wasn't, they didn't, it sure as hell is, it sure didn't help Jeb!, and they're not even close, wasn't on the thought terminating cliche bumper sticker package they memorized.

  • pudge||

    Damon: you got this wrong. To summarize: this was not about banning books but banning a certain way of funding them, and it was not about then-current law, but about a hypothetical act of Congress.

    What the S.G. said was not that the book could be banned, but that they could prohibit the corporation using general funds to publish it. Once published -- even if using corporate treasury funds -- it would not be banned, it would have just been funded illegally. Right before the quote you offer, the S.G. said:

    "... our position would be that the corporation could be required to use PAC funds rather than general treasury funds."

    And earlier in the session, he said: "I'm not saying it could be banned. I'm saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds ..."

    Maybe you could say that in *some cases* this could be a de facto ban (maybe the corporation doesn't have separate PAC funds), but it isn't a ban, and any corporation could get around it by separately allocating funds.

    And *even then*, this was a discussion not about what the current law says, but what the power of government *could do* under the Constitution. The S.G. followed up with:

    "Well, of course the statute contains its own media exemption or media ..."

    To which Alito replied:

    "I'm not asking what the statute says. The government's position is that the First Amendment allows the banning of a book if it's published by a corporation?"

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online