In December 2007, Citizens United filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of several statutory provisions governing “electioneering communications”. It asked the court to declare that the prohibition on corporate and union funding was facially unconstitutional, and also as applied to Hillary: The Movie, and to enjoin the Federal Election Commission from enforcing its regulations.
Citizens United also argued that the Commission’s disclosure and disclaimer requirements were unconstitutional as applied to the movie pursuant to the Supreme Court decision in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. It also sought to enjoin funding, disclosure and disclaimer requirements as applied to Citizens United’s intended ads for the movie. In accordance with special rules in section 403 of the BCRA, a three-judge court was convened to hear the case. On January 15, 2008, the court denied Citizens United’s motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the suit had little chance of success because the movie had no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote against Senator Clinton, that it was, therefore, express advocacy, not entitled to exemption from the ban on corporate funding of electioneering communications, and that television advertisements for the movie within 30 days of a primary violated the BCRA restrictions on “electioneering communications”.
The court held that the Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC (2003) had found the disclosure requirements constitutional as to all electioneering communications, and Wisconsin RTL did not disturb this holding because the only issue of that case was whether speech that did not constitute the functional equivalent of express advocacy could be banned during the relevant pre-election period. On July 18, 2008, the District Court granted summary judgment to the Federal Election Commission. In accordance with the special rules in the BCRA, Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court which docketed the case on August 18, 2008, and granted certiorari on November 14, 2008. The Supreme Court heard oral argument on March 24, 2009, and then asked for further briefs on June 29; the re-argument was heard on September 9, 2009.