Thursday, February 4, 2010

What the radical Supreme Court ruling means to you

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By Jay Bookman

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is an Alice in Wonderland exercise. The five-justice majority reached the outcome it sought — an outcome that greatly expands the legal rights and political power of corporations — by trying to redefine basic reality.

No matter what the Court majority may prefer to argue or believe, corporations are not people and money is not speech. They simply are not.

Nor did the Founding Fathers perceive them as such. The notion that corporations — a useful legal fiction created by government — should have the same rights as natural human beings would have astounded Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marshall. The theory of natural rights that animated the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that it is people and only people who are endowed with inalienable, natural rights. At the time, they did not even extend that theory to apply to those people who were held as slaves.

Corporations and unions are merely tools. And like any manmade tool, they can be remade however we wish to make them perform better in our service. They are not natural persons with rights inherent in their existence. If we choose to endow corporations with certain rights and deny them other rights so they might better serve our purposes, we ought to be perfectly free to do so. They are our creations.

Yet at its core, the Supreme Court’s majority decision in Citizens United attempts to erase that distinction and give corporations and people equal standing. The judges proclaimed point blank that it is in fact unconstitutional to treat corporations and people differently in matters of political speech:

“Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. The Government may also commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead to this conclusion.”

In other words, inanimate, lifeless corporations cannot be “disfavored speakers” under the Constitution. They must be given the same natural rights as human beings.

And these judges proclaim themselves originalists. Amazing.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the minority, is clearly confounded by what his colleagues are attempting:

“Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed
and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”

To rule that Congress cannot limit the rights of corporations that are invented by man and controlled by man — to endow those legal fictions with the same natural rights as living, human beings — is absurd. To claim the U.S. Constitution as the basis for that ruling is an outright fabrication.

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