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Is new Supreme Court ruling a retreat from Citizens United?

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The First Amendment protects the broad right of non-citizens to comment on US elections and candidates. But Congress banned political contributions and electioneering expenditures from foreign entities and foreign citizens, other than those who are lawful permanent residents of the US.

The Bluman case questioned why First Amendment free speech protections don’t also extend to foreign citizens who are legally present in the US on a temporary work visa.

The case was filed on behalf of two individuals who are in the US on work visas that are set to expire in 2012.

Benjamin Bluman is Canadian and works as an associate at a New York law firm. Despite his status as a non-permanent resident, Mr. Bluman wants to contribute to Democratic candidates running in US elections.

Asenath Steiman is a dual citizen of Canada and Israel. She works as a physician in New York and wants to contribute to Republican candidates running in US elections.

Both claimed the First Amendment protects their right to make political contributions despite the fact that they are not permanent residents.

The Federal Election Commission countered that Congress was within its authority to bar participation by those who have no permanent connection to the country.

A three-judge panel in Washington dismissed the case, ruling that a “fairly clear line” has been established that the government can exclude foreign citizens from participating in activities that are intimately related to the process of democratic self-government.

The court upheld both a contribution ban and an expenditure ban, saying it was a justifiable way for Congress to seek to limit foreign influence in US elections.

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