Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Anti-Clinton Movie Triggers First Amendment Showdown Before Supreme Court

"The Supreme Court will weigh First Amendment rights against campaign finance law when it holds a rare September session Wednesday to review a case that started as a dispute over an anti-Hillary Clinton movie that a conservative group wanted to air during the 2008 presidential primaries.

The politically hot case will also be the first Supreme Court case for new Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

As is customary, the high court will convene its next term on the first Monday in October, but this case originates from arguments it first heard in March, before Sotomayor was a member of the court.

The Supreme Court is now looking at whether to strike limits on campaign spending by labor unions and corporations. The justices announced in June that they wanted to hear additional arguments that reexamine a ruling that upheld a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Despite the court's interest in hearing the expanded arguments, it is still possible the justices will issue a narrow decision on the case originally brought by Citizens United, which produced a documentary film highly critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In January 2008, the Federal Election Commission prohibited the distribution of "Hillary: The Movie" and advertisements for the film. It based its decision on a provision of campaign finance law prohibiting the express advocacy of political candidates by outside groups.

The case raised significant questions about the law, named after Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

For more than a century, lawmakers fearing excessive influence from corporate treasuries have banned companies from making direct political contributions. That prohibition was later extended to labor unions. In 1990, the Supreme Court upheld the basic premise of those laws ruling that election results can be illegitimately distorted without them."

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