Citizens United is catastrophic in itself but the problem runs deeper.
Citizens United is the most extreme extension of a concerted, well-funded campaign for “corporate rights” that has been building for decades.
With increasing aggressiveness, corporations have persuaded activist courts to rewrite the First Amendment to include “corporate speech,” not just human speech. Corporations now use this twisted theory to demolish public laws that stand in the path of corporate profit.
We the People v. Citizens United
from The Herald News
Our Constitution opens with the words “We the people.” Are corporations people?
This year, people in more than 60 Massachusetts cities and towns have weighed in on this question, and answered loudly, “Of course not!”
Falmouth, Somerset and Westport recently joined others in passing resolutions calling on Congress to send a constitutional amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment would overturn the disastrous Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC and ensure that the Constitution means what it has always meant: the Bill of Rights applies to people, not corporations.
Similar resolutions have passed everywhere from Worcester to Williamstown, and earlier this year Boston joined a growing list of other major cities across the country that now includes New York, Los Angeles and Seattle in calling for an amendment. Eleven attorneys general, including Martha Coakley, have written to Congress urging action. Entire states have joined in passing amendment resolutions, starting with Rhode Island, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii. A resolution pending on Beacon Hill would add Massachusetts to that list.
In Citizens United, a 5-4 court threw out decades of legal precedent and ruled that we the people are not allowed to decide for ourselves whether corporations and unions can spend unlimited sums of money to influence our elections.
As a result, we now see the shady dominance of corporate and billionaire SuperPacs and the increasing irrelevance of most Americans to Washington and the political operators. And this is only the beginning. Bear in mind that the largest 100 corporations alone had revenues in the 2008 election cycle of more than $13 trillion.
Citizens United is catastrophic in itself but the problem runs deeper. Citizens United is the most extreme extension of a concerted, well-funded campaign for “corporate rights” that has been building for decades. With increasing aggressiveness, corporations have persuaded activist courts to rewrite the First Amendment to include “corporate speech,” not just human speech. Corporations now use this twisted theory to demolish public laws that stand in the path of corporate profit.
One of many examples: In Massachusetts, we once restricted cigarette advertising within one thousand feet of a school or playground. Why? Cigarette corporations illegally conspired to target children (or as internal corporate documents called them, “replacement smokers”). Agree or disagree with such a law, shouldn’t we the people be able to decide for ourselves if we think that’s necessary?
Not according the cigarette corporations. The Supreme Court struck down the law in 2001 as an infringement on the “free speech rights” of Big Tobacco. Similar court results have taken a scythe to laws effecting food, farming, the environment, energy, Wall Street and more.
Corporations do not breathe. They do not have a conscience. They are not American.
Corporations are entities created under state, federal and foreign laws. In those laws, corporations receive many rights and privileges, not the least of which are limited liability and perpetual operation. But corporations are not human beings, and they are not entitled to constitutional rights. Constitutional rights are those natural human rights that are the bedrock of our system of government.
To claim that the Bill of Rights applies to “we the transnational corporations” as well as “we the people” requires tortured argument and sophistry. When an activist-minded Supreme Court buys this theory, a republic of free and equal people is in trouble.
That’s why U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., joined by North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and many other co-sponsors, have introduced the bipartisan People’s Rights Amendment. This amendment bill, one of several under consideration, overturns Citizens United and re-affirms that constitutional rights apply to real people, not corporations.
Corporations would remain perfectly functional (and still very powerful). But they could no longer twist our Bill of Rights to evade the democratic process, bulldoze public interest laws, and overwhelm the checks and balances that make republican democracy work.
Seven of our previous 27 amendments reversed Supreme Court decisions — including those that denied women the right to vote and ruled that African-Americans have no rights under our Constitution. Now it is our turn to overrule the Court and put the promise of what Abraham Lincoln called “the last best hope of Earth” back on the road to success.
Millions of Americans have started the heavy lifting of the 28th Amendment campaign. Now it is time for Bay State lawmakers to join the fight. With the amendment resolution pending on Beacon Hill, Massachusetts is close to joining the leading states in calling for the 28th Amendment. It is time for lawmakers to show where they stand.
Jeff Clements is the co-founder and president of Free Speech For People (www.freespeechforpeople.org), a national non-partisan organization advocating for a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United, and author of “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It” (Berrett-Koehler 2012).