Of the People
Last week an activist conservative Supreme Court majority ruled that corporations have First Amendment free speech rights just like real people! This absurd decision was no accident. The Roberts majority aggressively looked for a case that they might use to come up with the holding. They found it in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. And though the Citizens United case was easily resolved by a more limited decision declaring that a 90-minute video sold on pay-for-view or by disc is not a political advertisement, this simple approach was rejected by the Roberts majority, which ordered the parties to brief the free speech issue. So much for non-activism. So much for original intent and strict interpretation as well.
Does anyone believe that the founding fathers had the purpose of giving the East India Tea Company First Amendment protection? Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I hope we shall … crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country.” In addition, this absurd ruling overturns 100 years of precedent, makes futile the fight of Theodore Roosevelt and other trustbusters, and ignores the obvious fact that corporations are created by government for limited commercial purposes. So much for stare decisis.
Corporations are creatures of the state; they must be subject to regulation by the state. The ruling that corporations have rights that government can’t limit creates a Frankenstein’s monster that will subdue democracy in our nation. If a Constitutional amendment is necessary to state the obvious (corporations aren’t people), we must take that action. California, the home of Hiram Johnson and others who led the fight against corporate takeover of the government at the turn of the 19th century, seems a good place to get this idea back on track. I urge our state senator and our assemblyperson to initiate such an amendment at the next opportunity. I urge all citizens to support that effort. — Glen Mowrer, former Santa Barbara County public defender
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During his State of the Union speech, President Obama lashed out at, threatened, and embarrassed the justices of the Supreme Court. It was an unprecedented breach of decorum and reflected the worst of Washington politics. In last week’s speech, Obama said the “Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests (including foreign corporations) to spend without limit in our elections.” Not true. In fact, the high court’s ruling in a First Amendment case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), overturned a 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and parts of the McCain-Feingold reform bill from 2002 that restricted independent political advertising in the closing days of an election. Furthermore, the ruling lifted restrictions for companies, unions, and other organizations to make independent expenditures in political campaigns. “The court decision did not allow corporations to contribute directly to a campaign, coordinate expenditures with a campaign and it didn’t lift existing laws that blocked foreign contributions.” In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.”
Also, FEC regulations 11CFR 110.20 and federal law under 2 USC441-sec. 441e already prohibit foreign donations to U.S. elections. Unfortunately, President Obama’s statements relating to the Supreme Court’s ruling were inappropriate, misleading, not truthful, intended to intimidate future court decisions, and an assault on separation of powers. Disgraceful. — Diana Thorn, Carpinteria