Tuesday, December 4, 2012

PF Jan 2013 "Citizens United Case" - Definitions

Resolved: On balance, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission harms the election process.


This topic focuses on a specific U.S. Supreme Court case which is claimed in popular media to have opened the "floodgate" of campaign spending to the detriment of the political process.  However, we will find as we explore this case, the issues are not so one-sided.  Education will be a key factor in this topic and I think that is one reason I am excited about it.  It will offer a great opportunity for students to glimpse the "backroom" tactics of political attack ads while exploring the necessity to protect such ads as a form of free speech.  I also think, debaters have an excellent opportunity to educate judges about the implications of the court ruling and at the end of January, we will all be better citizens as a result.


on balance
"after weighing up all the factors", Collins English Dictionary.
"after considering the power or influence of both sides of a question", Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary.

Supreme Court
The supreme court is the highest (greatest authority) court within a given jurisdiction.  As such there are many supreme courts within the United states.  Each state, for example, has a state Supreme Court, but since this resolution references a specific decision in U.S. jurisprudence, it obviously means the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, as found in the Farlex online Free Dictionary which references, West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008, "The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest federal court. Although it was explicitly recognized in Article III of the Constitution, it was not formally established until passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73) and was not organized until 1790. Though its size and jurisdiction have changed over time, the Supreme Court has fulfilled its two main functions: acting as the final interpreter of state and federal law and establishing procedural rules for the federal courts."

From the Farlex online Free Dictionary which references, West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008,"A conclusion reached after an evaluation of facts and law".
"...When referring to judicial matters, a decision is not the same as an opinion, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A decision is the pronouncement of the solution of the court or judgment in a case, while an opinion is a statement of the reasons for its determination made by the court."

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Specifically refers to a legal case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, Docket No. 08-205, Appealed in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., July 18, 2008 and argued before the Supreme Court on March 24, 2009.  The case arose after certain documentaries and political films were blocked by provisions of a prior case aimed at limiting, among other things, "electioneering communications".  Basically, the case overturned previous rulings and decided it was unconstitutional to restrict communication by corporations, associations and unions.  This case will be discussed in detail later in this analysis.

Merriam-Webster, verb "to cause harm to" where harm is defined as "physical or mental damage, mischief or hurt".  While these definitions are useful in establishing a general meaning, for our purpose in this debate we can interpret the word to mean it causes undesirable effects or consequences.

election or election process
Merriam-Webster defines election as "the process of electing (choosing)". Process is defined as "a series of actions or operations conducing to an end", in this case, the series of actions leading to a choice.  Therefore, we interpret "election process" to mean, in this context, the actions resulting in people selecting individuals for government offices or accepting or rejecting ballot issues such as levies, taxes, and other kinds of issues which must be approved by voters.  The wider interpretation would not be limited to the actual polling method in which individuals officially indicate their final choice but rather in the process of evaluating and deciding the final choices.

Resolution Interpretation

Based on the foregoing definitions we interpret the resolution to mean, after weighing both sides of the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court judgement to not limit independent communications by corporations, and unions, causes undesirable consequences for the actions leading to the final selection of candidates and issues by voters.  In a nutshell, unrestricted communication by corporations, associations and unions harms the way voters select candidates and ballot issues.

Why This Resolution?

This resolution was no doubt influenced by the recent 2012 presidential election campaign which witnessed the rise of so-called super-PACs (Political Action Committees) and saw an unprecedented $6 billion spent overall, in the election process leading up the vote in November.  A New York Times article, published in November 2012 summarizes the issue very nicely:

"President Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, both raised more than $1 billion apiece. And the scale of outside spending was similarly staggering: more than $1 billion, about triple the amount in 2010.

But while outside spending affected the election in innumerable ways — reshaping the Republican presidential nominating contest, clogging the airwaves with unprecedented amounts of negative advertising and shoring up embattled Republican incumbents in the House — the prizes most sought by the emerging class of megadonors, most of whom favored Republicans, remained outside their grasp. President Obama was re-elected, and the Democrats strengthened their lock on the Senate.

The biggest single donor in political history, the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, contributed more than $60 million, but of the eight candidates he supported, none were victorious.

Flush with cash, Republican-leaning groups outspent Democratic ones by an even greater margin than in 2010. But rather than produce a major partisan imbalance, the money merely evened the playing field in many races.

Some advocates for tighter campaign financing regulations argued that who won or lost was beside the point. The danger, they argued, is that in a system reshaped by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, candidates and officeholders on both sides of the aisle are far more beholden to the wealthy individuals who can finance large-scale independent spending."

While the tactics and negative attack ads used in the recent election campaign may have proven to have little influence this time in deciding the outcome of the election, one does not need to be a political science major to understand the potential harms which may arise from the influence of unlimited private, corporate, or union contributions to the campaign effort may have on political campaigns.  While the messages churned out by the super-PACs may not have produced the desired results, one can easily see how such wide-spread political advertising could have a huge influence if the media could create messages which do sway voters.  But more important than the influence such ads have on the American voter, is the influence super-PAC money has on the candidates.  It seems to be a simple fact that campaigns which have the most financing seems to fare better and candidates may be tempted to provide political favors to large contributors. All right, let's not be so politically correct.  Candidates DO favor large donors, granting them political favors.

The potential debate around this resolution may deal with the influence America's elite have upon the political process to the exclusion of the lower socio-economic classes.  Indeed, there is evidence, that private donations from lower social groups are down and many feel their contributions have little impact on the outcome of elections.  The implications have already been debated by Public Forum debaters who examined the question of income disparity and its effect on democratic principles (December 2011).  Certainly, the wider debate could touch on issues of threats to democratic ideals.

On the other side of this debate, is the question of constitutional rights and free speech.  The notion that corporations have limited free speech rights with respect to political campaigns is flawed.  Most media outlets, newspapers, broadcast companies and publishers are parts of large corporations who freely and without restriction express their opinions about candidates and issues.  So why are other corporations restricted from such speech?  Supreme Court Judge Alito in a November 2012 speech explains:

"The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations.  Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech."

Attorney Steve Simpson of the Institute for Justice sees attempts to limit speech by corporations as an exercise of political power by those who are already in power.  He explains :

"We often hear that “corporations aren’t people,” which, of course, is true. They are groups of people. More particularly, they are legal entities that are composed of and operated by people who have voluntarily associated with one another and who want to voluntarily associate with others as a legal entity. As such, corporations have the same legal rights as the people who compose them (at least those that people can exercise in cooperation with one another), no more, but no less.
 The motives of those who attack corporate speech and Citizens United are twofold. First is the desire for political power. Elections are the path to political power, so those who want that power try to control who can influence the outcome of elections. One way to do that is to restrict who can speak by restricting how they finance their speech."

Here We Go...

This topic should prove to be very interesting.  There is a certain level of distrust by the general public which mostly believes, according to polls, that campaign spending should be limited.  Certainly, history is rife with examples of how wealth can corrupt politics.  On the other hand is the cold-hard face of free speech rights which the Courts have fervently protected throughout the history of the U.S.

This topic is continued in part two.

For links to other Public Forum debate topics, click here.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I need a author for debate, we are doing blocks, yet I cannot seem to find one, therefore I cannot use this site, thanks a lot.

  3. Where are the contentions ? Lbvssss


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