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

Citizens United Undermines Our Elections and the Supreme Court

As we draw closer to the November election, it becomes clearer that this year’s contest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will be financially dominated by big money, including, whether directly or indirectly, big money from the treasuries of corporations of all kinds.

Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.

Russ Feingold

A case for principled conservatives to support an amendment

excerpts from “Abolish Corporate Personhood” blog; read the full text here.

There are many reasons why a principled conservative would want to have the Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court decision reversed by abolishing corporate personhood and ending the doctrine that money is a form of speech. Whereas an unprincipled conservative will put the interests of corporations (property) ahead of the interests of citizens no matter what the consequences, a principled conservative would be concerned about the common good of the Republic.

Conservative Reasons to Abolish Corporate Constitutional Rights

The American Revolution was explicitly anti-corporate, and the revolutionaries made sure that corporations were tightly controlled.
The word corporation does not occur in the Constitution. Corporations had to use unelected, unaccountable judges to give them rights.

According to Thomas Jefferson, judges, who grant corporations rights, are “playing God” because he claimed in the Declaration of Independence that men — not property — are “ordained by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Judge-made law is not democratic. We did not elect the Supreme Court justices, but they get to decide who does and does not count in our democratic order. Congress and the People should decide those issues.

This is not about opposing business or capitalism, and we recognize that corporations play an important role in society. Continue reading

NEWS: Lobbying Group Asks Supreme Court Not To Use “Empirical Evidence”

From Republic Report:

Late last year, the Montana high court, citing the state’s long history of corporate money corrupting politics, defied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and continued enforcing the state’s 100-year old law banning corporate involvement in state elections. The Supreme Court has blocked the Montana court’s decision pending on its own determination as to whether to formally hear the case this fall. Allowing a full argument in matter could allow the Court to  reconsider the merits of the Citizens Uniteddecision, which opened the doors to unlimited corporate and union involvement in American elections.

Now, attorneys for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a 100%-corporate funded lobbying group that has used the Citizens United decision to pump tens of millions of undisclosed dollars into federal elections over the last two years, is fighting to maintain the status quo. And they don’t want the justices to consider the evidence that the Citizens United decision, along with prior examples of corporate involvement in campaigns, causes corruption.

At the heart of the issue is whether the Citizens United decision has increased corruption. Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a statement about the Montana decision, said the court must make clear if “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’”

Interest groups and politicians are lining up to offer briefs to the Supreme Court. Some, like Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John McCain (R-AZ), have submitted a brief urging the court to overturn Citizens United.

Needham Citizens Tell Town Meeting: Vote YES on Article 23

As part of our preparation to present our citizens petition to Town Meeting, we asked Needham residents to weigh in. At a small number of community gatherings (including LWV Candidates’ night) and online, over 100 people signed their names in support of passing Article 23.

Town Meeting Members, these are comments from your constituents:

We need to do all we can to eliminate Super PACS. Thank you.

Thanks for doing this.

The US is teetering toward democracy and welfare for the corporations and very rich–with the rest of us left in the dust.

We need to restore some sanity and some equanimity to the election process. This is a first step–let’s take it together.

Free speech belongs to the citizenry.  A corporate entity does not enjoy the same rights as citizens and should not be given this overwhelming financial advantage over each individual voter.

In a democratic republic, politicians should serve the people – all the people, not just the highest bidder.  Corruption is bad enough without letting businesses looking for favors fund candidates to do their bidding; or worse, pay off both sides with funds to ensure they can’t lose.

Since Congress won’t take action, the people need to. This is one of the most important issues of our time. Thanks for doing this.

A terrible hurt has been thrust upon the public by the indefencible decision made by our Supreme Court-it’s a licence to buy elections for those with the most money.

Corporations are not citizens because their decisionmakers’ first loyalty is to their shareholders’ interests, not those of the nation, even if those interests conflict.  If they were citizens, they would be traitors. Corporation members already have the rights and responsibilities of citizens as individuals; they should have no added power to influence public affairs as corps. Incorporation protects them from personal accountability for their actions as a corp. No accountability, no rights.

Town Meeting is my voice, representing real people–not corporations. Let’s use the people’s voice –Town Meeting–to return our democracy back to the people!

I fully agree with the warrant article. 

Town Meeting Members can request the list of names by emailing WethePeopleNeedham@gmail.com. Continue reading

Citizens United: Judicial Activism

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker argues that the Citizens United decision was an extraordinary example of judicial activism:

Above all, though, the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts.

Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did.

As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.