Sunday, January 24, 2010

LTG 01/24/10 - Corporations are people, too!

Last week, the Supreme Court decided that Congress could not block or limit corporations from making political donations. With the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court has abandoned decades of rules about how we run elections, and dramatically shifted how the First Amendment applies to corporations.

The short-term result of the decision will be a Wild West of corporate donations for the November elections. Corporations will be free to promise whatever sum they wish to the politicians who will take positions to help that corporation on the huge issues before them, such as health care reform, bank regulation, and climate change regulation. They will be able to offer the converse, as well – to offer those huge sums to any challenger to a politician who takes a position contrary to that corporation’s interests.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by the group of judges we can now call the Conservative Four – Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and my pal Tony Scalia. (Hey, if the right-wing can talk about scary “rogue judges” roaming the countryside legislating from the bench, I can create a supervillain group of judges. Just, please, don’t let Tony near a spandex costume.) Kennedy’s opinion was draped in the First Amendment, uttering dire warnings about the power of the government to imprison citizens for expressing their thoughts.

Gentle readers, no one is a more passionate defender of the First Amendment than your Law-Talking Guy. So take it from me when I tell you that Kennedy’s interpretation of the First Amendment is hogwash.

The First Amendment is designed to make sure that people have a right to speak freely. But in Kennedy’s opinion, a corporation should be treated exactly the same as a person, and given those exact same rights. In law, a corporation is treated like a person, meaning a corporation can sign a contract, bring a lawsuit, or be sued like a person. It’s called a “legal fiction,” and is helpful in allowing a corporation to do business.

But Kennedy takes that legal fiction and insists on granting it the full panoply of First Amendment rights that a real person would have. Never mind the fact that all of the people that make up that corporation already have their First Amendment rights. It’s unclear if the Conservative Four would extend this corporate personhood to granting them the Constitutional right to vote or sit on juries, but that may be coming as well.

The results of the decision are bad enough. But what is even more offensive is the rank hypocrisy demonstrated by the Conservative Four. Sherman, set the WayBack Machine for 2005. John Roberts sat before Congress as President George W. Bush’s appointee to replace William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Roberts decried the concept of “judicial activism,” saying that judges should merely be umpires calling balls and strikes and not inserting themselves into decisions about policy.

“If it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more,” Roberts wrote and was hailed by conservative pundits as a model judge who would not be a “rogue judge” who would “legislate from the bench.”

Now, let’s go back to the present. In Citizens United, the issue before the Court was whether election rules prohibited the distribution of a movie that was clearly designed to be a political attack on a candidate. Almost every Court observer expected a limited ruling, designed to give some nuance as to how the laws Congress passed would be treated in this specific situation.

Nuance, schmuance. The Conservative Four got Kennedy on board and used Citizens United to completely blow up Congressional rules governing campaign finance, imperil campaign finance laws in almost half the states in the union, and dramatically expand the “legal fiction” of personhood given to corporations. This wasn’t judges being umpires. It was judges ‘roiding up like Mark McGwire and pounding decades of precedent into the right field bleachers.

Doesn’t a change in law that dramatic sound like judicial activism? Isn’t throwing out an act of Congress legislating from the bench and overturning the will of the people? If nothing else, what we learn from this decision is that the conservative “judicial activist” complaint is even more than hypocrisy. It is an bald-faced lie. Conservatives are totally cool with what they call judicial activism – so long as the activism gets them a result they like.

It is likely that soon President Barack Obama will have another Supreme Court vacancy to fill. If that’s the case, you can bet that conservative groups – fueled by now-unrestricted corporate giving thanks to the Conservative Four – will be running attack ads on the hour darkly warning you about how Obama’s nominee is a “judicial activist” who will “overturn the will of the people” and “legislate from the bench.”

Just remember when you hear it the judicial activism from the Conservative Four that made it all possible.

1 comment:

Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Are corporations really persons?

Do corporations think?

Do corporations grieve when a loved one dies as a result of a lack of adequate health care?

If a corporation ever committed an unspeakable crime against the American people, could IT be sent to federal prison? (Note the operative word here: "It")

Has a corporation ever given its life for its country?

Has a corporation ever been killed in an accident as the result of a design flaw in the automobile it was driving?

Has a corporation ever written a novel that inspired millions?

Has a corporation ever risked its life by climbing a ladder to save a child from a burning house?

Has a corporation ever won an Oscar? Or an Emmy? Or the Nobel Peace Prize? Or the Pulitzer Prize in Biography?

Has a corporation ever been shot and killed by someone who was using an illegal and unregistered gun?

Has a corporation ever paused to reflect upon the simple beauty of an autumn sunset or a brilliant winter moon rising on the horizon?

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise if there are no corporations there to hear it?

Should corporations kiss on the first date?

Our lives - yours and mine - have more worth than any corporation. To say that the Supreme Court made a awful decision on Thursday is an understatement. Not only is it an obscene ruling - it's an insult to our humanity.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY