The U.S. Supreme Court today threw out a federal law that, among other things, prohibited certain political speech around election time in a case called Citizens United. The National ACLU had filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill banning “electioneering communications” violated the First Amendment and urged the Court to strike it down as unconstitutional. Citizens United is a broad opinion that throws out a number of campaign finance reform laws, including those banning “electioneering communications” and those setting limits on corporate expenditures. While the ACLU is still examining the logic and ramifications of the broader holding in Citizens United, we urged the Court to overturn bans on speech in the form of “electioneering communications,” and applaud the portion of the Court’s decision that does so.
The ACLU believes that the system of electing candidates to federal office badly needs repair. And we will continue to advocate reform of the current system — such as our longstanding support for full public financing — but in doing so we will stress fidelity to the principles protected by the First Amendment with the goal of expanding, not limiting, political speech. That is why the ACLU argued that the Supreme Court should find Section 203 of the Campaign Reform Act, prohibiting core speech around election time, unconstitutional.
As such, the ACLU of Nevada agrees with the outcome of today's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC upholding that position. The court held that the federal law was facially unconstitutional because it targeted core political speech and violated the right of the American public to discuss vital policy issues during election season.
Today's decision agrees with the ACLU of Nevada's consistent position that the right to organize over a political issue - particularly one on the ballot - is the most fundamental type of speech protected by the First Amendment, and deserves the Constitution's fullest protections.
Maggie McLetchie, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Nevada, explained the ACLU of Nevada's position: "While public perception is that McCain-Feingold only affected speech by huge corporations, it banned certain speech by all corporations and unions - profit and not for profit. Thus, groups like the ACLU would be barred from speaking about certain issues on behalf of its members. Be it paid or not paid, individual or collective, political speech must be protected by the First Amendment."
The ACLU of Nevada, along with the Eagle Forum, successfully fought off attempts to during the 2009 legislative session to impose measures in Nevada that would have increased reporting requirements on "Political Action Committees" and imposed similarly vague prohibitions on electioneering speech (AB82).
"Like some of the federal provisions that were struck down today, AB 82 was vague and targeted core political speech and advocacy," said Lee Rowland, Northern Coordinator of the ACLU of Nevada. "We testified against the law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and today's Supreme Court opinion affirms our position."