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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"Can You Hear me Now...Good!" Feminism(s), the Public/Private Divide, and Citizens United v. FEC

  • Author(s): Cohen, Ronnie
  • O'Byrne, Shannon
  • et al.

This essay offers a critique -- inspired by feminism(s) --  of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), a case which ruled that restrictions on direct expenditures of funds from corporate treasuries to support or oppose candidates for political office were unconstitutional restrictions on corporations' rights of free speech.

In response, the essay proposes a two-pronged feminist attack against Citizens United.  The first prong is to acknowledge the dangers facing women and other disadvantaged groups which emerge due to corporate privatization of the public sphere and to argue, as an antidote, for a robustly construed public domain. Whereas early feminists identified as a threat to women the divide between public and private, Citizens United underscores a newer threat -- namely the elimination of that divide.  The second prong is to deploy feminism's well known rejection of abstraction in favour of context.  This approach helps demonstrate how Citizens United propels its pro-corporate outcome by erasing context and instead deploying a strategy of denying tremendously significant legal distinctions -- most crucially between living human beings and artificial legal entities.

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