of citizens united The ruling goes against our founders, decades of Supreme Court precedent, and the will of the American people.
Nothing in the text of the Constitution expressly recognizes corporations or recognizes the rights of individuals. Nor does the Constituent Assembly record provide any hint that the founders have thought about whether the Constitution was intended to extend its protections to corporations.
Moreover, when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, no one knew that its guarantees were designed primarily to secure the rights of newly freed slaves, not to protect the rights of corporations. I knew too. No one could have imagined that such a time would come.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Supreme Court began to recognize corporate property rights when: Lockner vs New Yorkwhich strongly rejected the claim that corporations have other constitutionally protected rights.
As the court declared in 1907, referring to corporations, “the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment are those of natural persons, not those of man.”
In fact, in a famous 1916 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court, People vs. GunsleyThe constitutionality of Michigan’s campaign finance law, which outright rejected the claim that corporations have the same right to free speech as individuals, in support of the then-universal view, and prohibited corporations from spending their campaign money. supported the
20years later, Grosjean v. American Press CompanyLouisiana Gov. Huey Long, who criticized his actions, was the first to argue that First Amendment protections for press freedom also apply to media companies like the New York Times and Washington Post. .
Indeed, after Grosjean’s decision, media companies came to be treated as valuable contributors to American democracy.
Nevertheless, for the next 65 years, the Supreme Court continued to reject the proposition that non-media companies should have the same freedom of speech as individuals.
of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of CommerceFor example, in 1990, a majority of six lawmakers, including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, supported the constitutionality of state laws prohibiting corporations from using Treasury funds to try to influence elections. Did.
The court held that in light of the corporate entity’s “unique legal and economic characteristics,” which included special advantages such as limited liability, perpetual life, and preferential treatment in the accumulation and distribution of assets, corporations were more restricted than they could spend. I explained that I must have the right to do so. Spend more money on electoral politics than the average person.
Thirteen years later, in 2003, the Court McConnell v. Federal Election Commissiongained bipartisan support in Congress and endorsed the constitutionality of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The majority opinion was co-written by Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor, both of whom were appointed to the Court by Republican Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
In their opinion to the Supreme Court, Justices Stevens and O’Connor noted the long history of special restrictions on non-media companies in campaign finance. Citing the Austin court ruling, McConnell’s majority explained: Public support for corporate political ideas. ”
In short, the court accepted the view that the powerful influence of corporate spending on the electoral process can seriously undermine and distort the essential lessons of a well-functioning democracy.
But three years later, Judge Sandra Day O’Connor resigned from the court and was replaced by Samuel Alito. A change in the composition of the Supreme Court leaves most people with his new five lawmakers, including Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, making up a conservative majority, with both Austin and McConnell I thought there was a high possibility of overturning A 100-year-old Supreme Court precedent holds that corporations, like individual citizens, have equal rights to participate in a democracy, thus amending unlimited use of corporate funds to shape the outcome of the political process. It claims to have Article 1 rights.
And so it did.of citizens unitedIn 2010, just seven years after the court’s ruling in McConnell, the court ruled 5-4 to overturn a century of Supreme Court precedent, amending corporations to use unlimited General Treasury Funds. I have decided that I have the right to Article 1. Fund independent spending in favor of or against candidates for public office.
In addition, companies also citizens united “Super PAC” — A special type of political action committee that, unlike a regular PAC, can accept unlimited donations from corporations, as long as the corporation’s independent spending is not aligned with a specific federal candidate. Donate an unlimited amount.
as a result citizens unitedIn 2012, businesses were able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars shaping both national and state elections.
As Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissenting opinion, citizens unitedthe majority of judges, unlike past judges, simply ignored both the reality and the appearance of corruption in the political process.
In fact, Stevens argues that denying Congress the power to protect the nation from “the illicit use of money to influence election results” denies an important and essential ability to protect and preserve the nation. It observes what courts have long recognized is to do. our democracy.
Citing a court decision in Austin, Stevens argued that the majority decision failed to recognize the dangers of the corporate form and opened the door to the potentially distorting influence of the dominant funding source. Corporations, he wrote, are not “we the people” for whom our constitution was made.
As Stevens pointed out, corporations “contribute tremendously to our society, but they are not, and never intended to be, actual members.” In fact, he pointed out, “They can’t run for office, they can’t vote.”
“Our legislators have compelling, if not democratic, constitutional mandates to take steps designed to prevent the potentially harmful effects of corporate spending on local and national races. I have a reason,” he observed.
Finally, Stevens concludes: He’s been campaigning since at least Theodore Roosevelt’s time. ”
Stevens acknowledged that American democracy was “imperfect,” and other than the court’s five judges, “few people think its flaws include a lack of corporate funding in politics. I didn’t,” he claimed.
The drafters would be shocked and horrified if they could step into the present to see how these judges distorted the constitution’s original meaning and understanding, he said. .
It was truly astonishing that these five judges, who claimed to believe in “originalism”, dramatically disregarded all the principles of originalism in order to arrive at the result they accepted. citizens united.
By the way, it should be noted that citizens united This decision caused a public backlash. Polls show that eight of his 10 Americans opposed the court’s decision. That number has remained roughly the same to this day. In short, the majority of Americans believe that corporations should not have the right and power to control our democratic process as they have always believed.
However, given the current composition of the Supreme Court, it is clear that legislation designed to restore democracy to a sense of democracy will never be possible, as long as the current judges remain in place.
This speech was originally given at the Center for Law and Finance at the University of Chicago.