(CN) – The Supreme Court ended its summer recess early this year to consider a case that could decide the future of campaign-finance law. The justices will decide whether a conservative nonprofit group should have been blocked from showing a scathing political documentary called “Hillary: The Movie” before the 2008 primary elections.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the corporate nonprofit appeals the commission’s decision to block the film from pay-per-view TV before the 2008 campaign.
The film’s makers called the commission’s decision a violation of their free speech. The movie features various pundits and politicos discussing Clinton’s bid for the presidency.
“We must never underestimate this woman,” one commentator says. “We must never understate her chances of winning. And we must never forget the fundamental danger that this woman poses to every value that we hold dear.”
In January, a three-judge panel of the federal court in Washington, D.C., deemed the film corporate electioneering, saying it was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.”
The district court upheld campaign restrictions stemming from the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, a campaign-finance reform law named for its two senate sponsors, John McCain and Russ Feingold.
The Supreme Court decided to hear the case this week, though it traditionally convenes in early October. Its decision will technically be part of its 2008-2009 term.
The case, which has drawn dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs, could be decided on a wide spectrum of rationales, from the narrow issue of whether video-on-demand constitutes a commercial broadcast to the broad issue of whether state and federal campaign-finance restrictions are constitutional.
Also at issue is the validity of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 Supreme Court decision in which a six-justice majority rejected a First Amendment challenge of a Michigan campaign-finance law. Justice Anthony Kennedy, one of the dissenting justices in Austin, is expected to try to vindicate his earlier position.
Twenty-six states currently have laws limiting corporate campaign spending.
Arguments will begin Wednesday.