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Strengthening Free Speech or Undercutting Democratic Elections? A Debate on Citizens United

In 2010, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the decision eliminated restrictions on corporate involvement in electoral politics. The ruling affirmed full political free speech rights for corporations, unions, and other outside groups, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in electoral campaigns. During the current election cycle, hundreds of SuperPACs, independent political action committees created after the outcome of Citizens United, have raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political races, more than four times the amount spent in 2008. There is more speech but much of the information from outside groups and political advertising advertising is negative. Outside group influence may provide the substantive material to tip the balance in the 2012 general election or it might confound, distract, discourage, or irritate voters.

Does the Citizens United ruling appropriately support a fundamental constitutional principle – the doctrine of political free speech? Does it unleash money’s influence in electoral politics, corrupting the process and undermining its legitimacy? Hopefully some of these questions will be answered – or at least colorfully discussed – at this Athenaeum event.

The Claremont Colleges Debate Union provides opportunities for national and international parliamentary debating. They participate in approximately 45 tournaments per year. Each year, students compete in tournaments in workshops throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Korea. The Debate Union has been notably successful, winning three national debate championships, as well as more than 150 team and individual debate awards in each of the past 5 years.

Each 2-person team will consist of a current student and a CMC/Debate Union alumnus. Arguing in favor of the Citizens United/free speech side are Jesse Blumenthal and Nadeem Farooqi. Arguing against Citizens United and supporting the position that the ruling undermines fair elections are Allison Westfahl and Anna Joseph.

Allison L. Westfahl Kong graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College in 2007 with a B.A. in mathematics and government. One of the most successful intercollegiate debaters in the United States in the past decade, she also won the Asian Debate Championship in Seoul. Following college, she attended New York University School of Law, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2010. While at NYU, she served as the Senior Articles Editor of the Law Review and was a Furman Academic Scholar. From 2010-2011 she served as law clerk to the Honorable Jed S. Rakoff of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York and from 2011-2012 she served as law clerk to the Honorable Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Her article Regulatory Change and Optimal Transition Relief, co-authored with Dean Richard Revesz, was recently published in the Northwestern Law Review. Starting in November 2012, she will join the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

Jesse Blumenthal graduated with honors in 2011 with a B. A. in PPE. He was elected as the student commencement speaker that year. An extraordinarily successful competitive debater, Jesse and his debate partner were ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation for 3 years; he won the US National Debate Championship in 2010. He twice worked on Capitol Hill for then-House Minority Leader John Boehner. He is currently the Public Affairs Manager for the American Enterprise Institute.

Anna Joseph ‘13 and Nadeem Farooqi ‘15 will represent the current student membership of the Claremont Colleges Debate Union. Anna and Nadeem are talented debaters and both have qualified for national and international competition against undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students. This year, Nadeem and Anna are scheduled to attend many of the most challenging debate events in the world, including competitions hosted by the University of British Columbia, Oxford, Cambridge, and the US National Championship.