Justice Alito and Citizens United

The Citizens United majority never explained why any corporation without a press function warrants the same free speech rights as a person. Neither did Justice Alito. Meanwhile, the false equivalence of money and speech put forward by Citizens United and the money it unleashed is wreaking havoc in our politics.

From New York Times editorial — Last week, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. speciously defended the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case by arguing that the ruling, which allowed unlimited independent campaign spending by corporations and unions, was not really groundbreaking at all. In fact, he said, all it did was reaffirm that corporations have free speech rights and that, without such rights, newspapers would have lost the major press freedom rulings that allowed the publication of the Pentagon Papers and made it easier for newspapers to defend themselves against libel suits in New York Times v. Sullivan.

“The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations,” he said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”

But Justice Alito’s argument wrongly confuses the matter. It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection. It is their function — the vital role that the press plays in American democracy — that sets them apart. In Citizens United, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court ruled that the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, in limiting the amount that organizations could spend, severely restricted First Amendment rights. The law’s purpose and effect, according to the court, was to keep unions and most corporations from conveying facts and opinions to the public, though it exempted media corporations.

But the majority got that backward. The point of the law was to protect the news media’s freedom of speech and not the legal form that they happened to be organized under. While corporations make enormous contributions to society, they “are not actually members of it,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent. When the framers “constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind,” he noted, not that of corporations.

In New York Times v. Sullivan, in which the First Amendment was used to rein in the law of libel, the Supreme Court focused on the “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” It made almost no mention of the fact that The Times was a corporation. Nor were the free speech rights of a corporation any part of the ruling in the Pentagon Papers case.

The Citizens United majority never explained why any corporation that does not have a press function warrants the same free speech rights as a person. Neither did Justice Alito. Meanwhile, the false equivalence of money and speech put forward by Citizens United and the money it unleashed is wreaking havoc in our politics.

FROM: Justice Alito, Citizens United and the Press – NYTimes.com (11/19/2012) – http://nyti.ms/Se3DOp

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HOW TO GET BIG MONEY OUT OF ELECTIONS & RECLAIM THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF ‘WE THE PEOPLE’

Please join David Cobb, nationally known spokesperson for Move to Amend, as he pulls back the curtain on the decades-old story of how corporations have gotten the Supreme Court to give them constitutional rights reserved for the people by the framers of the Constitution. Using these rights, corporations and the super-rich are now allowed to spend unlimited sums to influence our elections!

David’s talk couldn’t be better timed.  On November 6, nearly a third of Massachusetts voters will have the chance to vote on the “Democracy Amendment” question, a nonbinding ballot question calling for a constitutional amendment to end corporate constitutional rights and allow us to establish spending limits in political campaigns.

Meet other concerned citizens who want to reclaim our democracy! Get involved in the growing national movement for an amendment to the US Constitution!

Date:    Thursday, September 20th, from 7p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location:   Natick Senior Center,  90 Oak Street, Natick MA

David Cobb is National Projects Director of Democracy Unlimited. He is a lawyer and political activist. David has sued corporate polluters, lobbied elected officials, run for political office himself, and has been arrested for non-violent civil disobedience.  He truly believes we must use ALL the tools in the toolbox to effect the systemic social change we so desperately need. 

Co-Sponsored by Common Cause, Democracy Amendment Coalition of MA, Occupy Natick
Progressive Democrats of America – Greater Boston (PDA)

New York Times Editorial Page

The corrupting influence of money is not limited to bribery —

the broader problem is the ability of moneyed interests to put into office those who support their political agendas or financial interests.

Free speech? Expensive megaphone.

In Citizens United, Justice Kennedy cited James Madison in The Federalist in noting that “factions” in American democracy can be “checked” by ensuring that all of them can speak freely and “by entrusting the people to judge what is true and what is false.” Continue reading