Exploring Civil and Economic Freedom

Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010)

Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. F.E.C. Dealing with free speech in the political arena, this lesson asks students to asses whether or not the Supreme Court ruled correctly in Citizens United in light of constitutional principles including republican government, freedom of speech, and property rights.

Founding Principles

Freedom of Speech image

Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Property Rights image

Property Rights

The natural right of all individuals to create, obtain, and control their possessions, beliefs, faculties, and opinions, as well as the fruits of their labor.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.

Case Background

During his 2010 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama did something very few presidents have done: he openly challenged a Supreme Court ruling in front of both chambers of Congress and members of the Supreme Court of the United States. That ruling, Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), and the President’s commentary on it, reignited passions on both sides of a century-long debate: to what extent does the First Amendment protect the variety of ways Americans associate with one another and the diverse ways we “speak,” “assemble,” and participate in American political life? It is this speech — political speech — that the Founders knew was inseparable from the very concept of self-government.

This Homework Help video asks students to consider what the relationship between money and politics should be.

Key Question

Assess whether the Supreme Court ruled correctly in Citizens United v. F.E.C., 2010, in light of constitutional principles including republican government, freedom of speech, and property rights.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the Founders’ reasons for affording political speech the greatest protection.
  • Apply principles of republican government and freedom of speech to evaluate the decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010).


  1. Have students read and answer the questions for Handout B: Background Essay. Alternatively, read it aloud in class, providing support as needed. You may wish to use Handout C: Timeline of Campaign Finance Reform Initiatives to help students understand these events. Review definitions of constitutional principles: republican government, freedom of speech, and property rights.
  2. Have students complete Handout A: Agree or Disagree. Then, tell them that if the provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act at issue in Citizens United not been overturned, situations 1, 2, and 3 would have been felonies. You may wish to reveal to students that Statements 4, 5, and 6 are quotes from the majority opinion in Citizens United.
  3. Divide the class into five groups and assign each group to analyze their assigned documents: Group 1: Documents A, B, and C; Group 2: Documents D, E, and L; Group 3: Documents F, G, and H; Group 4: Document I (Majority Opinion), and Group 5: Documents J and K (additional opinions). Each group should designate a spokesperson.
  4. Have Groups 1, 2, and 3 report, summarizing their discussion. At this point, have students identify which aspects of the documents presented so far would be most helpful to each of the two attorneys arguing the case. For now, Groups 4 and 5 are merely observers, not participants.
  5. Have students in Groups 1, 2, and 3 tell whether they think the BCRA was constitutional, and to provide their reasoning based on constitutional principles. Take a vote and write the results on the board. Who would have won this case if these students were the Supreme Court?
  6. Next, have Groups 4 and 5 report the actual Supreme Court opinions. Which constitutional principles seem to have been most persuasive to the Supreme Court Justices?
  7. Use key question, “Assess whether the Supreme Court ruled correctly in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), in light of constitutional principles including republican government, property rights, and freedom of speech.” In a writing assignment, focus on the constitutional principles involved in the case.
  8. Have students collect and analyze current events articles related to the issues and constitutional principles in this case.

See RESOURCES for additional Graphic Organizers.



  • Handout A: Agree or Disagree
  • Handout B: Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010) Background Essay
  • Handout C: Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010)


  1. Federalist #10 by James Madison (1787)
  2. Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington (1787)
  3. The First Amendment (1791)
  4. Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)
  5. “The Bosses of the Senate,” Joseph Keppler (1889)
  6. New Nationalism Speech, Theodore Roosevelt (1910)
  7. Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
  8. Citizens United Mission Statement (1988)
  9. McConnell v. F.E.C. (2003)
  10. Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), Majority Opinion
  11. Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), Dissenting Opinion
  12. Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), Concurring Opinion
  13. “Another Dam Breaks,” Matt Wuerker (2010)

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