The American Political System

The purpose of this assignment is to explain and critically reflect upon the debate in Citizen’s United v FEC (2010) between Justice Kennedy and Justice Stevens about how the first amendment’s protection of speech applies to campaign spending by groups.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010), is a landmark 5-to-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited, because doing so would be in noncompliance with the First Amendment. … The Court’s decision struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that banned for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications” in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The decision also completely overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and partially overruled McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). The decision upheld the requirements for disclaimer and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements, and the ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidates, in part IV. The decision has been met with significant debate. (summary from
Because this decision essentially permitted a new form of campaign finance, the Federal Elections Commission established a new form of organization – a Super-PAC – which could be set up and approved to accept donations of unlimited size from corporations, unions, individuals, or other types of groups to purchase campaign ads and engage in other forms of “independent” election expenditures.  (As is explained above, donations by a corporation directly to a campaign are still prohibited entirely, and donations by an individual directly to a campaign are still very strictly limited.)  Stephen Colbert waded into this issue when he set up a Super-PAC during the 2012 presidential election.  These and other campaign groups are tracked, using data reported to the FEC, at
Before writing this essay, you should have
1) read the excerpts from the Court’s opinion by Kennedy and excerpts from Stevens’ dissent in the case
2) contributed to the course Wiki on the arguments in the case.
3) considered the difference between PACs and super PACs
Then, write an essay in which you:

  1. a) provide a brief summary of the arguments made by Kennedy and Stevens. One paragraph about each author’s position is fine. You should tell what Stevens and Kennedy both say on each of the 4 issues listed by Stevens and featured in the Wiki assignment.


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  1. b) critically analyze each author’s position. In doing this, answer the following 3 questions: 1) how does each author explain WHY they think first amendment speech protections are important for elections? 2) WHAT are the conditions under which each thinks this goal is more likely to be achieved?  3) How would super-PACs help democracy (for Kennedy) or hurt democracy (for Stevens)?

In this section, you must use at least 2 direct quotes from each author.  Use the following format and embed the citations within your text:
“direct quote” (author, p.#)

  1. c) finally, tell WHICH approach to the first amendment (Kennedy or Stevens) you find most persuasive and why.

(You will receive 5 pts of extra credit on this part if you include 2 specific pieces of data about donors to AND spending by a specific super PAC from
Make sure you provide complete citation information for any sources you use in the paper.


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