US Supreme Court Gives Corporations The Constitutional Right To Control Elections
Free Speech cage in Boston, MA.
By Robin Yeamans
The US Supreme Court in January, 2010, declared void a federal law forbidding last-minute political attack ads by corporations and labor unions within 30 days of a primary election in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Comm’n. Because it relates only to ads shortly before an election, the decision does not open the floodgates for corporate money to pour into elections—those gates were opened long ago. Instead, the case reflects the triumph of corporations taking open, direct control of the government and elections.
Many complain that the Supreme Court now treats corporations legally as “persons,” with the same rights as humans. The Supreme Court has long treated corporations as “persons” entitled to 14th Amendment due process (1886) and 1st Amendment free speech (1978). In reality courts elevate the rights of corporations far above the rights of flesh-and-blood persons. When a non-wealthy person wants to affect US politics, he can use the internet (and be ignored) or take up a picket sign. To express political dissent, as at the WTO in Seattle or the Democratic National Convention in 2004, non-corporate persons had to enter fortified pens, resembling internment camps, where they could display their picket signs — far from any delegate to the event.
To give corpor
ations the same rights as most Americans, the Supreme Court would have to limit corporations to using picket signs, and herd the corporations with their little paper signs into pens cynically called “free speech zones” or “demonstration zones.”
A judge who okayed one “demonstration zone” (“DZ”) described it in Coalition to Protest Democratic Nat. Convention v. City of Boston (2004) 327 F.Supp.2d 61, 66-67:
“The ‘designated demonstration zone’ is . . . 300 feet by 90 feet. The . . . eastern edge faces the outdoor parking lot that will be used as a bus terminal for arriving and departing DNC delegates.
“. . . . Most. . . of the DZ lies under unused Green Line tracks. The tracks create a . . . grim, mean, and oppressive space whose ominous roof is supported by a forest of girders that obstruct sight lines . . . .”
The judge indicates that although directly under the tracks an adult can stand up, at the tracks’ edges “diagonal girders slope at approximately sixty degree angles to the ground. . . . . [I]n practice, the area under the tracks is quite restricted by the girders. . . . [A] person of normal height could not carry a sign underneath the girders without lowering it to head level or lower. . . .” Further the DZ is surrounded by two rows of concrete barriers, and at the top of each “is an eight foot high chain link fence. A tightly woven mesh fabric . . . covers the outer fence, . . .” This is the DZ the judge found adequate for workers’ free speech.
In Citizens United the Court found the limit on last-minute ads was a virtual “ban” on corporate speech. Herding working people into grim pens is considered not a “ban” but a reasonable limit on time, place and manner of speech. This is blatant favoritism in favor of corporations.
As the economy hardly needs workers, our constitutional “rights” are crashing down while corporations’ “rights” are mushrooming. The Democratic Party’s call for restoring the limits on last-minute political ads is pathetically inadequate to address corporate control of elections. We need to take back our government.
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