I awoke today to check my e-mail and I had a Facebook group invite from my brother to join they “People Against the Supreme Court Giving Corporations Rights” or something like that. What makes this invite particularly irritating is that my brother (who sometimes writes on this very blog) claims to be a Conservative. Now, I love my brother, but he and others who think that this is the Supreme Court just kowtowing to big business are just plain wrong. What’s more, the Democrats who support groups like the ACLU and flag burning because it’s “free speech” expose their hypocrisy about this decision.
The central tenant of their argument seems to be something like this. Corporations are not people and thus they are not entitled to First Amendment protections. If that argument doesn’t work then they fall back to the old populist argument that if we allow corporations to have unlimited campaign contributions then they will control elections.
Both of these arguments are simply disingenuous if not just silly. First, the United States has recognized that corporations are entitled to similar rights that American citizens enjoy. These rights derive from the fact that corporations are simply a collective of several citizens, who are all entitled to the same rights. Besides that, the First Amendment is very clear, it states “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t say that only citizens enjoy this protection, it makes no qualifications that only individuals enjoy this protection, it simply states that Congress shall make “no” law. The Constitution does not give Congress the power to pick favored speakers and disfavored speakers, indeed they are specifically forbidden from doing so.
The Supreme Court has a long history of upholding this axiom and only in very specific circumstances such as yelling fire in a crowded theater are speech rights to be curtailed. I find it especially humorous that the New York Times editorial board also came out against ruling when they are one of the largest benefactors of a similar reading of the Constitution. According to the Times logic I guess that this freedom doesn’t apply to the Times Company and Congress can regulate or limit the speech that the New York Times enjoys.
My favorite take on this nonsense is Keith Olbermann’s who said the following:
Today, the Supreme Court, of Chief Justice John Roberts, in a decision that might actually have more dire implications than “Dred Scott v Sandford,” declared that because of the alchemy of its 19th Century predecessors in deciding that corporations had all the rights of people, any restrictions on how these corporate-beings spend their money on political advertising, are unconstitutional.
In short, the first amendment — free speech for persons — which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886.
I’m not sure what law school Olbermann went to (ESPNU??) but comparing Dred Scott to this opinion is asinine, but I guess no more asinine then anything else that comes out of his pie-hole. He says free speech for “persons”, please show that language to me in the Constitution Kieth.
The second argument by those opposed to this ruling isn’t really based on any specific legal reasoning but rather on a populist argument that anything corporations do is bad and that we can’t allow them political speech because then they would control all elections. Before McCain-Feingold Corporations were able to exercise their full freedom of Speech, but there is no evidence that they controlled elections up until that point (allegations of Free-masonry excepted).
The fact is that this ruling allows associations of all kinds (including labor unions) to now donate and exercise their right to political speech as much as they want.
Even if you don’t find my arguments compelling let me just point out one last thing. McCain-Feingold set up a confusing set of regulations that resulted in a slew of 501(c) organizations which were doing the same thing that Corporations will do now. I think it makes more sense to just require strict accounting of every dime received by every campaign that has to be published every month. This way we know exactly who is donating to whom and if you think Haliburton donating to the GOP is disgusting, don’t support candidates who receive money from those groups, simple enough. The current fiction under which we operates just muddies the waters.
In general my theory goes like this: more regulation of speech is a worse decision then less regulation of speech, even speech you may not like. The ACLU once defended the KKK and their right to assemble and protest. Most who defended this right had no agreement with the KKK, but felt that the right to free speech is so important that even disgusting speech should be protected. As the old saw goes: “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.”