One of the most often cited Supreme Court opinions is a 1986 decision on administrative law called Chevron v. NRDC. That obscure case has been cited 25,000 times, reflecting the massive growth in government regulations.
A case called Citizens United v. FEC was handed down last January in another obscure field: election law. Yet already there have been 300 citations to this opinion. President Obama even “cited” Citizens United during his first State of the Union address last January in order to criticize Supreme Court Justices who were sitting right in front of him. The Citizens United precedent has spread like wildfire through the lower courts, impacting many other issues.
The organization called Citizens United is a nonprofit corporation that produced a movie critical of Hillary Clinton and wanted to release it while she was running for President in 2008. Federal law previously prohibited corporations from making political expenditures. In the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment is “premised on mistrust of governmental power,” and so the High Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money on political advocacy when those expenditures are independent from candidates and not coordinated with any campaign. As a result, a great deal of money was spent by corporations by both parties in the 2010 elections.
The impact of Citizens United is extending beyond election law because it strengthened the view that a corporation is the legal equivalent of a person. The Citizens United decision not only had a big influence in the 2010 elections, but it has become the most influential decision so far in the 21st century.
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