The Constitution in “Quotes”: 2007 PJP Participant Kathleen Sullivan’s Nuanced View of Citizen’s United

Citizens United has been unjustly maligned as radically departing from settled free speech tradition. In fact, the clashing opinions in the case simply illustrate that free speech tradition has different strands. The libertarian strand from which the majority draws support emphasizes that freedom of speech is a negative command that protects a system of speech, not individual speakers, and thus invalidates government interference with the background system of expression no matter whether a speaker is individual or collective, for-profit or nonprofit, powerful or marginal. The egalitarian strand on which the dissent relies, in contrast, views speech rights as belonging to individual speakers and speech restrictions as subject to a one-way ratchet: impermissible when they create or entrench the subordination of political or cultural minorities, but permissible when aimed at redistributing speaking power to reduce some speakers’ disproportionate influence.”
Stanford Law School Professor Kathleen Sullivan, on Citizen’s United, the Supreme Court decision announced earlier this year barring Congress, under the First Amendment, from limiting corporate contributions to independent political broadcasts. Sullivan’s comments appeared in the Harvard Law Review.

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