The case, known as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, challenged the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law that censored speech by corporations on ballot measures. The law included criminal penalties.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the law, reversing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. “We … find no support” the Court held, “for the proposition that speech that otherwise would be within the protection of the First Amendment loses that protection simply because its source is a corporation...”
For decades, the Supreme Court has recognized a corporation's right to free speech. The Citizens United opinion alone cites 25 cases supporting this point, the first cited case being Bellotti, though it was not the first such decision. Nor, as some have suggested, has the Court ever recognized a so-called “media exemption,” which would grant press outlets full First Amendment protection, but not other corporations. Indeed, the Court has explicitly rejected that argument.