Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a groundbreaking decision by the Supreme Court that removed limits on how much money organizations could donate to political campaigns. Years later, this ruling has become the subject of contentious debate: do we really have a constitutional right to unlimited spending on our own political speech.
For democracy to work, some say, citizens (and corporations, and unions, and media outlets, and other voluntary organizations) must be allowed to express their views on the issues, candidates, and elections of the day. This proposition, they say, is exactly why the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and of the press. On this view, restrictions on independent political speech undermine and subvert our constitutional structure.
But others take a different view: If everyone can spend as much money as they like to express their political views, then some voices will be amplified, magnified and enhanced — while others will be all but drowned out. On this view, it is this inequality of influence that subverts our constitutional structure — and restrictions that level the playing field actually enhance rather than abridge the freedom of speech.
In this episode of Intelligence Squared, four individuals sound off on the question and attempt to sway the audience opinion.
For the motion:
- Floyd Abrams, one of the leading legal authorities on the First Amendment and U.S. constitutional law
- Nadine Strossen, professor of law at New York Law School
Against the motion:
- Burt Neuborne, one of the nation’s foremost civil liberties lawyers, teachers, and scholars
- Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor at Fordham Law School
Airs Saturday, August 2 at 6am on 93.9 FM and 2pm on AM 820; Airs Sunday, August 3 at 7am and 8pm on AM 820