Citizens, United and Citizens United: The Future of Labor Speech Rights?

54 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2011 Last revised: 1 Feb 2012

Date Written: March 19, 2011


Within hours of its announcement, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC came under attack from progressive groups. Among these groups were some of America’s largest labor unions - even though the decision applies equally to unions and for profit corporations. The reason is clear: there exist both practical and structural impediments that will prevent unions from benefiting from Citizens United to the same extent as corporations. Therefore, Citizens United stands to unleash a torrent of corporate electioneering that could drown out the countervailing voice of organized labor.

This Article, however, takes a broader view of Citizens United to explore a possible “silver lining” for labor. It posits that, in articulating a wide-ranging vision of associations’ free speech rights, the Court undermined the intellectual basis of a lengthy string of cases that has limited the First Amendment protection applicable to labor related speech in other contexts, such as picketing, boycotting, and striking. Additionally, by discounting the First Amendment interests of dissenting shareholders, Citizens United calls into question the validity of restrictions on unions’ use of lawfully collected dues and fees for political speech and new organizing. Accordingly, this Article concludes that Citizens United has the potential to impact significantly unions’ First Amendment rights outside of the campaign finance arena.

Keywords: Citizens United, labor unions, First Amendment, free speech, picketing, union dues

Suggested Citation

Garden, Charlotte, Citizens, United and Citizens United: The Future of Labor Speech Rights? (March 19, 2011). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 53, p. 1, 2011, Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 12-6, Available at SSRN:

Charlotte Garden (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA 98122-1090
United States

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