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'Hillary' case: the legal stakes

Three Supreme Court justices have already announced their willingness to overturn a pair of key precedents.

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David Bossie, leader of Citizens United and producer of "Hillary: The Movie", in this March 20 file photo.

Evan Vucci / AP / File

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On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court is set to hold an 80-minute argument session that will probe one of the thorniest areas of the ongoing debate over the influence of money in politics.

At issue is whether the high court should overturn two key legal precedents justifying restrictions on corporate speech during federal elections.

Specifically, the justices are examining to what extent corporations enjoy a First Amendment free-speech right to engage in political speech by producing broadcast commercials and films in the days and weeks before an election.

The case revolves around a decision by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to block video-on-demand broadcasts of a conservative group's unflattering examination of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The 90-minute film is called "Hillary: The Movie."

The group, Citizens United, wanted to show it during the 2008 election season.

The FEC ruled that the film was the equivalent of a campaign-attack advertisement that could be regulated under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

The group said the action amounted to government censorship of protected political speech.

The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was argued and submitted to the court for decision this past March. But in late June, the court asked the parties to submit new briefs addressing broader First Amendment issues, including why the justices shouldn't overturn two related legal precedents established in 1990 and 2003. Both precedents expanded the constitutional justification for strict limits on corporate spending in federal elections.

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