Floyd Abrams, who defended the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case, corrects his former client in a letter to the editor:
“Justice Alito, Citizens United and the Press” (editorial, Nov. 20), criticizing Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s defense of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, misapprehends the nature of The Times’s own great victories in cases such as the Pentagon Papers and New York Times v. Sullivan.
You state correctly that in neither case did the court make anything of the fact that The Times is a corporation. But that is the point. In those cases, as in Citizens United, political speech was held protected regardless of who was speaking or what its corporate status was. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained in Citizens United, “the First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.”
The law at issue in Citizens United permitted The Times to endorse candidates while making it a felony for nonmedia corporations to do so. It made it a crime for a union to distribute your endorsement of President Obama for re-election to its members. It should come as no surprise that the same First Amendment that was held to shield the press in landmark cases of the past now shields such speech as well. [New York Times, November 27; h/t Overlawyered, Novermber 28]