Private corporations may be able to directly influence political campaigns following Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission..
In a 5-4 vote, justices ruled that decades of case law banning companies and unions from paying for campaign ads and other political speech is constitutionally inconsistent.
President Barack Obama denounced the decision as favoring big businesses, like oil and health insurance companies. The case was born out of the 2008 presidential election.
Just as the country's election fever reached historic levels, Citizens United, a non-profit organization dedicated to returning government power to the public's hands, released a video documentary about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ran against Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The documentary, ""Hillary: The Movie,"" was released in theatres and on DVD, and justices described it as ""critical of Clinton.""
Citizens United wanted to distribute the film via digital video-on-demand, which could have exposed private cable corporations to sanction under U.S. law.
Citizens United proactively filed for permission to avoid penalty under the U.S. code that bans corporations from supporting political speech.
The court rejected Citizens United's argument that the U.S. code didn't apply to it, and re-affirmed the federal statute. However, the Court specified that the ""government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.""
The court ruled that certain standards in cases like Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) are contrary to the principles of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which bars Congress from restricting freedom of speech.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his 90-page dissent that the decision will promote preferential treatment and prevent access to elections by lesser-known candidates.
Melanie Rainer, a third-year UA law student, serves on the Supreme Court of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.
""I believe that the ruling truly destroys the public interest. It takes away power from the American public and hands it to big interest: lobbyists, big business and special interest groups. Our politics are already dictated by these groups and now they have an upper hand in elections,"" she said.
Brittni Storrs, a political science senior and member of the UA Young Democrats, echoed Rainer's concerns.
""I do not think it was a step in the right direction for freedom of speech at all. There needs to be a distinction between how the Constitution addresses the liberties between corporations and individuals,"" she said.
The UA College Republicans did not respond to e-mail requests for comments Monday.