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February 2, 2010

Corporations As Citizens

Roy Meachum

Somewhere in the Constitution, I guess, the Founding Fathers equated companies and corporations with the rights of American citizens; I don’t know where. Still it must be there. Otherwise the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overstepped its authority.


“Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy justified the majority’s position in last week’s ruling. “No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.”


From here it seems companies now have the power of installing officials whom they favor and to hell with what John Q. Public wants. GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s labor was the unintended victim; the senator along with Democratic colleague Russ Feingold (D., WI) put forth and saw passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.


“The law barred corporations and labor unions from using general treasury funds to pay for advertisements or other broadcasts,” according to the Christian Science Monitor, “in a way that Federal Election Commission officials might view as electioneering.”


The ban was for 30 days before primaries and 60 days before general elections.


Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90 page dissent, denouncing the latest opinion as a dangerous rejection of common sense, and I agree. After all, as Mr. Stevens noted, “…few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”


Consider the number of lobbyists and their pay today, far more than when I was a young reporter for The Washington Post. Every company has a K Street dog to sniff around Congress and lift a leg when its corporate executives are offended.


Justice Stevens’ view was totally ignored by the chief justice and his fellow Republican nominees: Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. On the other side with Justice Stevens were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Steven Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, all named for the high court by Democratic presidents. On that basis last week’s opinion was one of the most political in the history of jurisprudence in this country.


Notice: The justices proclaimed their binding opinion the day after the State of the Union address, although the ruling for corporations and big unions was known well in advance. Before both chambers Wednesday night, Barack Obama denounced the pending opinion.


The president’s plea for bipartisan movement toward solving the nation’s problem was crippled by a body that should not take sides in the ongoing struggle between Republicans and Democrats. I agree with Justice Stevens that the ruling violated common sense and posed new dangers for the system the Supreme Court was sworn to uphold.


Chief Justice John Roberts and his GOP cohorts may have thought the press would be too busy reporting and discussing the State of the Union so that their outrageous decision would be lost in its aftermath. While their news may have escaped some front pages, its impact cannot be ignored.


And to think Maryland’s Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney is still vilified for following the contemporary mores and laws in his pre-Civil War ruling against runaway slave Dred Scott; dummies have been hanged with his name around their necks.


Chief Justice Roberts and his GOP gang justifiably deserve a similar treatment for ruling against this republic’s democracy that translates as government of the people. They substituted instead the elite and moneyed.


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