Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy? Live Debate In-Person in Chicago and Online, Feb 21

January 25, 2024
Shore Fire Media

In a high-stakes presidential election year, the nonpartisan debate series Open to Debate and the Newt and Jo Minow Debate Series at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law are taking a look at more than a decade of the Citizens United Supreme Court case. Since the 2010 landmark decision, there have been questions about whether the decision has harmed our democratic process. Those who support the decision argue it upholds free speech, allowing diverse voices in the political arena, and broadens the range of discourse by enabling groups to freely express their views and support candidates or policies. Those against it argue that it allows a disproportionate influence from corporations and special interest groups, and leaves the voices of ordinary citizens overshadowed by the financial resources of a few, eroding the principles of equality and fair representation. With more than a decade of evidence now in the post-Citizens United era, Open to Debate debates the question: “Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy?”

Arguing “Yes” will be Vanderbilt law professor Francesca Procaccini, former appellate attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and Stetson law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, former counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Arguing “No” will be Cahill Gordon & Reindel Senior Counsel Floyd Abrams, who represented Citizens United in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and Gober Group partner Eric Wang, a pro bono Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech who advocates for reducing the regulatory burden on clients exercising their First Amendment rights.

This debate will be recorded live in person at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, Illinois and will stream live online. Press are invited to attend either in-person or virtually on Wednesday, February 21 at 5:00 PM CT. Media can email raypadgett@shorefire.com to request in-person or virtual access.



Francesca Procaccini: Assistant Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School

Francesca Procaccini researches and writes about federal courts and constitutional law, particularly First Amendment law. She joined Vanderbilt University Law School in 2022 after teaching at Harvard Law School as a Climenko Fellow, where her scholarship focused on constitutional political rights. Before that, she was a fellow with the Yale Law School Information Society Project, where she researched modern applications of First Amendment law to digital political speech and taught courses on free speech law and media law. Procaccini was also an appellate attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she litigated civil rights cases in the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a law clerk for Judge Jerome Farris of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Her scholarly articles have been published in the Virginia Law Review, Fordham Law Review, Harvard Journal on Legislation, and Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Additionally, her legal analysis has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and Lawfare. Procaccini earned her law degree cum laude at Harvard Law School, and she is a summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard College.


Ciara Torres-Spelliscy: Professor of Law at Stetson University

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy teaches courses in the First Amendment, Corporate Governance, Business Entities, and Constitutional Law. Before joining Stetson, she was counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice providing guidance on the issues of money in politics and the judiciary to state and federal lawmakers, an associate at Arnold & Porter LLP, and a staffer for Sen. Richard Durbin. She is the author of “Corporate Citizen: An Argument for the Separation of Corporation and State” and “Political Brands”. Torres-Spelliscy has testified before Congress and has helped draft legislation and Supreme Court briefs. She’s been published in many law reviews, along with The Washington Post, New York Times, New York Law Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Roll Call, the ABA Judges Journal, and other newspapers. She has been named a member of the Lawyers of Color’s “50 Under 50” list of minority law professors making an impact in legal education and is a member of the AALS Section on Constitutional Law Executive Committee. She is a Brennan Center Fellow, a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, the Vice Chair of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, and a former board member of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.



Floyd Abrams: Senior Counsel at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP

Floyd Abrams is Senior Counsel in Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP’s litigation practice group. Abrams has extensive experience in high-visibility matters, often involving First Amendment, intellectual property, public policy, and regulatory issues, arguing frequently in the Supreme Court in high-profile cases. He represented The New York Times during the Pentagon Papers case, Judith Miller in the CIA leak grand jury investigation, Citizens United in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and other high-profile clients such as Standard & Poor’s, Lorillard Tobacco Company, NPR, and Hearst. He founded the Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School, which promotes free speech, scholarship, and law reform on emerging questions concerning traditional and new media. He previously clerked for Judge Paul Conway Leahy of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware and was a visiting lecturer at Columbia and Yale Law Schools. Described as “the most significant First Amendment lawyer of our age,” Floyd has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and has been awarded the Walter Cronkite Freedom of Information Award and the Thurgood Marshall Award of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, among other awards.


Eric Wang: Partner at The Gober Group; pro bono Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech

Eric Wang is a partner at The Gober Group and a pro bono Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech (IFS). His practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying, political nonprofits, and government ethics laws. He has advised clients on the campaign finance laws in all fifty states and in many municipalities. At the Institute for Free Speech, Wang helps advocate for reducing the regulatory burden on clients exercising their First Amendment rights. He was previously Special Counsel in the Election Law practice group at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wiley Rein, interim general counsel at Americans for Prosperity, and counsel to former Commissioner Caroline Hunter at the Federal Election Commission. His articles on political law issues have been published in USA Today, Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, and The Washington Times, among other outlets. He earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and holds a B.A. in Public Policy from Princeton University.



Open to Debate addresses a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics. We are the nation’s only nonpartisan, debate-driven media organization dedicated to bringing multiple viewpoints together for a constructive, balanced, respectful exchange of ideas. Open to Debate is a platform for intellectually curious and open-minded people to engage with others holding opposing views on complex issues. We know debate works to find common ground: On average, 32% of the Open to Debate audience changes their mind on contentious topics after hearing a debate. That’s the power of debate done right, and at scale, it can change the direction we’re headed in America. Open to Debate is broadcast as a weekly public radio program, carried on NPR stations including WNYC (#1 in the nation). Open to Debate is made available as a podcast, video series, and digital platform, and records episodes with live audiences nationwide. Visit opentodebate.org to become a member, access an archive of more than 220 debates, and attend live events.

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Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, a professional graduate school of Northwestern University, is one of the country’s leading law schools. Founded in 1859, the school that would become known as Northwestern Law was the first law school established in the city of Chicago. Today, Northwestern Law prides itself on its rigorous intellectual environment, highly interdisciplinary faculty, low student-faculty ratio, and diverse and supportive community. Northwestern Law graduates are leaders in the profession, from law firms to government, non-profits to academia, tackling today’s pressing legal issues.

For more information on Open to Debate, please contact Ray Padgett (raypadgett@shorefire.com) or Mark Satlof (msatlof@shorefire.com) at Shore Fire Media. For more information about the Council on Foreign Relations, please contact Jenny Mallamo (jmallamo@cfr.org) or Maekara Keopanapay (mkeopanapay@cfr.org).