Should the government have the power to ban a book if it contains any political advocacy? It took that position, until the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that Congress could not take away citizens’ political speech rights when they band together in corporations and unions. On the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, top journalists interviewed a variety of experts to explore the impact of the case on politics, liberals, and the future of the First Amendment.
Over the last decade, the Center has worked tirelessly to fulfill its mission to promote and defend First Amendment rights to free political speech, assembly, and petition. The Center’s Tenth Anniversary Gala celebrated that decade of accomplishment and looked forward to the many successful years to come.
On January 30, 1976, the United States Supreme Court handed down Buckley v. Valeo, still its most important decision at the intersection of campaign finance and the First Amendment. The Court brought forth a per curiam opinion that invalidated significant parts of the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The Buckley Court denied Congress the power to limit campaign spending. But not completely. The same Court decided Congress could restrict contributions to candidates to prevent quid pro quo corruption or “the appearance of corruption.” Giving citizens an “equal voice” in elections, however, could not justify suppressing speech.
Buckley remains a vital precedent that restrains and empowers Congress. But should Buckley be considered a First Amendment failure? Or did it embrace inevitable compromises that were both worse and better than everyone desired? How does Buckley affect the law and American politics and campaigning today? Does the decision have a future?
On January 26, 2016, the Center Competitive for Politics and the Cato Institute hosted a joint conference to examine the landmark decision, at which our panelists’ offered their take on these essential questions of First Amendment law and politics.