Lesson Plan: The Impact of Citizens United v. FEC

The Impact of Citizens United

Christian Berg, former Deputy General Counsel for Citizens United, and Meredith McGehee, Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center, discussed the background of the Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. FEC and its impact on elections.


In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, ruling in favor of Citizens United. The decision changed how campaign finance laws worked in the United States and expanded the free speech rights of corporations. In this lesson, students will explore the background and evaluate the effects of this court case. This lesson can be used in a traditional classroom, in classes with one-to-one devices or a flipped classroom.


  • WARM-UP:

    To begin class, have the students answer the following question:

    • In your opinion, should there be limits on how much individuals and business can spend on political campaigns?

    Discuss the warm-up question with the class. Address any misconceptions that are brought up regarding campaigns or campaign finance. As a class or individually, have the students watch the following video clips that introduce Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Students should answer the questions associated with each clip. Discuss the answers with the class before moving to the next step.

  • VIDEO CLIP: The Impact of Citizens United (3:56)

    • What actions did Citizens United take that violated federal campaign laws?

    • What were the arguments that Citizens United made in the case? What was the decision in the case?

    • According to Ms. McGehee and Mr. Berg, what are the impacts of Citizens United?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Benefits and Drawbacks of Constitutional Rights for Corporations (2:27)

    • What is meant by corporations having the same rights as people?

    • What are arguments against corporations having the same Constitutional rights as individuals?

    • What are arguments for corporations having the same Constitutional rights as individuals?

    After introducing the general ideas and outcomes of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the students will explore the different impacts of the case by viewing video clips from multiple perspectives. Use the handout below to have the students take notes on what each speaker interprets the effects of the Citizens United ruling to be.

    HANDOUT: Citizens United v. FEC Note-Taking Chart (Google Doc)


    Based on the information from the videos, have the students respond to the following prompt either with a written response or a class discussion:

    • How has the ruling in Citizens United v. FEC changed political campaigns?

    As an exit slip, have the students respond to the following question and support their answer with examples from class:

    • Has the Citizens United v. FEC ruling been beneficial to the country as a whole?

    Did they get it right?- View the following two videos of Senator Schumer (D-NY) and attorney Floyd Abrams reacting to the Citizens United ruling. Summarize the initial predictions and reactions that they made when the Citizens United case was decided. Evaluate if their predictions and reactions were accurate based on what you know now.


    Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United- View the bell ringer video linked below. Compare the rulings in both Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United. In a paragraph, discuss ways that they similar and the impact that Buckley v. Valeo had on the Citizens United ruling.


    • In your opinion, was the ruling in Citizens United v. FEC properly decided? Support your argument with examples from previous court cases, the Constitution and the video clips.

    • Based what your learned, should corporations have the Constitutional rights of people?

    • Using the information from the video clips, should money count as free speech?

    • What has been the most significant impact of the Citizens United v. FEC ruling? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources


  • 501c4
  • 501c6
  • Anonymous
  • Buckley V. Valeo
  • Burwell V. Hobby Lobby
  • Campaign Finance
  • Candidates
  • Censorship
  • Citizens United
  • Citizens United V. Federal Election Campaign
  • Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission
  • Constituent
  • Corporate Free Speech
  • Corporation
  • Corporations
  • Dark Money
  • Disclosure
  • Donor
  • Fundraising
  • Independent Expenditures
  • Litigation
  • Non-profit
  • Political Actions Committees
  • Political Parties
  • Senate
  • Single Candidate Super Pacs
  • Special Interest Groups
  • Super Pacs
  • Tax Code
  • Trade Associations
  • Transparency
  • Transparent


Campaigns & ElectionsInterest Groups & LobbyingSupreme Court Cases


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