Sunday, January 24, 2010

Random Thoughts on Citizens United v. FEC

I don't think I have the deepest judicial mind, but I do have a few thoughts (and a few links) to share about the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reform:
  • First off, I'm not sure yet how this will play out in real life. I don't think the ruling places democracy in peril. I do find the arguments about free speech very persuasive. I also think that despite all the campaign finance reforms, corporations have been able to find ways to influence candidates.
  • Conservatives might have lost the high ground to talk against "judicial activism."
  • My blog mate Chris Ladd talks about the fact that "corporations aren't people. He states:
    Let me be clear. Corporations are one of the finest institutions ever invented by mankind and have probably done more to improve the human condition than any organization we have previously created. And, turned loose from reasonable restraint they could, as at times they have, spread tremendous human misery and oppression. They do not die of old age. They do not bleed. They do not need a doctor, love their children, care about future generations, or feel pain. They are one of our most beautiful and efficient machines, but they are a machine no less.
    Okay, so General Electric isn't a real, flesh and blood person. But then neither is the New York Times or Fox News for that matter. They are also corporations. Why do they get a pass and non-media corporations don't? Illya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy responds to the personhood of corporations:
    It’s true, of course, that corporations “are not human beings.” But their owners (the stockholders) and employees are. Human beings organized as corporations shouldn’t have fewer constitutional rights than those organized as sole proprietors, partnerships, and so on. In this context, it’s important to emphasize that most media organizations and political activist groups also use the corporate form. As Eugene points out, most liberals accept the idea that organizational form is irrelevant when it comes to media corporations, which were exempt from the restrictions on other corporate speech struck down by the Court today. The Supreme Court (including its most liberal justices) has repeatedly recognized that media corporations have First Amendment rights just as broad as those extended to media owned by individuals. Yet the “corporations aren’t people” argument applies just as readily to media corporations as to others. After all, newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations “are not human beings” and they too “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” We readily reject this reasoning in the case of media corporations because we recognize that even though the corporations in question are not people, their owners and employees are. The same point applies to other corporations.
  • The other side of this is that liberals have long used the courts to expand the law. I personally think that is warranted at times (civil rights), but it is rather amusing to see them fume when the shoe is on the other foot.
  • Stuart Taylor has the most reasoned opinion against the ruling out there. He is able to talk about this merits of the case without going down the "end of democracy" road.
  • The last paragraph of ED Kain's post today is to the point:
    I’d just like to ask those who oppose this ruling which formally assembled groups of people should the federal government protect us from? If not from the media corporations, than why from the big retailers? And why exactly do we need this protection in the first place? And even more importantly, why is that you think the federal government will either do this fairly or successfully? Why place so much faith in the beneficence of the feds in the first place?

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