Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

21 January, 2011

Move To Amend Is Not Interested in Free Speech

Last fall a woman was out in Library Mall asking for people to sign a petition to amend the Constitution so as to include provisions explicitly stating that corporations are not people. "Money is not speech," she told me. I refused to sign.

After reading David Blaska's op-ed on the movement to amend the Constitution to codify the notion that corporations aren't people, I realize that the woman was likely Kaja Rebane.

"Sure it is," I said. OK. Sure, in a syllogistic kind of way, greenbacks aren't the equivalent of text or of getting on a soap box and saying things but, the more money you have, the more speech you can make and the bigger your audiences will be. As Ira Glasser of the ACLU wrote in a piece lauding the Citizens United case, "Money isn't speech, but how much money one has always determines how much speech one has. It's like travel: money isn't travel, but $100 won't get you very far, and those who have $25,000 can travel more, and more freely." Contrast with me to Rupert Murdoch. The guy is loaded and he gets to own media outlets who say things of which he approves. Hell, contrast me with someone like Doug Moe. He has a corporation behind him that published his column in the paper and the electronic version of the newspaper. Moe has money on his side so he, in a certain way, gets to have more speech. Good or bad? Regardless, it is. When has there ever been a time when this hasn't been the case?

Ms. Rebane said that the Citizen United case which struck down laws banning "electioneering communication" within 60 days of a general election (and other laws as well) made corporations into people. I told her that my understanding was that, no, SCOTUS didn't make corporations people but rather that people in corporations don't lose First Amendment rights by being a member of said corporation. Here are some relevant bits from the Wikipedia page on the ruling:

Kennedy wrote: "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."

Scalia stated that Stevens' dissent was “in splendid isolation from the text of the First Amendment. It never shows why “the freedom of speech” that was the right of Englishmen did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.”

Scalia principally argued that the first amendment was written in ”terms of speech, not speakers" and that "Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker“.


(Emphasis mine.)

Not being a constitutional lawyer, I have to admit my knowledge woefully incomplete but it is these things which give me my understanding on the ruling. General Electric can't vote but its CEO can. The Cap Times can editorialize all it wants and when it wants about elections but other corporations can't? When I read "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press", I read something which specifically addresses the behavior of government, not something which draws distinctions between speakers.

I got the distinct impression that Ms. Rebane wasn't interested in fairness or the First Amendment. She probably wasn't interested in free speech or robust dialogues about candidates for political office. No, I'm convinced that ensuring Republicans have less money spent on their behalf was her goal. It's all about silencing those with whom she disagrees.

And what about the law of unintended consequences? What happens when corporations are legally removed from a conception of personhood? Will government officials just be able to waltz into Planned Parenthood and look at confidential files? Or perhaps they'd head over to a newsroom and poke around a reporter's desk and computer to find out the identity of an anonymous source. Hell, couldn't the FBI then walk into Matt Rothschild's office over at The Progressive? I mean, he's part of a corporation so he has no right to be secure in his Progressive papers and effects. If an ad for Bennett's Meadowood Country Club were taken out in the paper, as they often do, telling people to vote for a Republican because that person would repeal the smoking ban, could the owner or owners be prosecuted? Of course, if Jerry Fratuschi were to take out an ad, that wouldn’t be a problem because he's not a corporation but his wealth dwarfs that of many local companies. Rainbow Bookstore? Sorry, you're not a person so your political speech is illegal. David Anderson, CEO of AmFam, please feel free speak out all you want.

Remember in 2006 when there was a movement to amend our state constitution to prohibit gay marriage? I heard a lot of talk from the Left about it being unique in that it would take away rights whereas we traditionally change our founding documents to expand them. Where is that kind of talk now? While I can honestly say I don't look forward to even more insipid political advertising chock full of lies and/or distortions, perhaps the remedy for speech liberals don't like isn't to start down a slippery slope of discrimination and bans but rather to create associations and start making more speech.
|| Palmer, 11:45 AM

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