Citizens United ruling returns its first lower court victory

Mike Riggs Contributor

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group, has posted on its website the results of a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling:

Citizens’ groups have now been freed to speak out in elections thanks to a unanimous “en banc” ruling today by all nine active judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This is the first major application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which expanded the free speech rights of corporations and unions to participate in elections.

Holding that, under Citizens United, “the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to an independent expenditure group,” Chief Judge David Sentelle, in an opinion joined by all eight other judges on the D.C. Circuit, struck down federal campaign finance laws that made it practically impossible for new and independent groups of individuals to join together and advocate for the election or defeat of political candidates.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) and the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed the First Amendment challenge to the laws in February 2008 on behalf of SpeechNow.org, a group of citizens that want to pool their money to run independent political ads for or against candidates based on their support for the First Amendment.  SpeechNow.org accepts money only from individuals—not corporations or unions—and does not make any contributions to political candidates or parties.

Although lone individuals have long been permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money on independent political ads, two or more individuals who pool their money in order to do the exact same thing are considered “political committees” and are subject to a host of burdensome regulations, including limits on how much they may contribute to fund the group’s political speech.

In the ruling, the Court held that limits on the amount of money SpeechNow.org could raise from its donors violated the First Amendment.  Noting that the ruling in Citizens United “simplifies the task of weighing the First Amendment interests implicated by contributions to SpeechNow,” the court concluded that, “the First Amendment cannot be encroached upon for naught.”