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Aside The Point

Possibly the most vexing comment in history, after Henry II supposedly said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” [Which made Thomas Becket a saint… well a martyr first] has to be the head note in the US Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, which has been used to justify “corporate personhood”.

It is important to note that there is absolutely no actual reference to the concept in the Court’s opinion in that case, just a reference by a court reporter in his preface. Nonetheless, that has been used to support a host of ills in the American system, most recently today’s decision on the campaign finance law.

In the CBS coverage, Supreme Court Ruling Will Cause Major Upheaval in Campaigns, there is something odd:

I just left the courtroom, where justices spent 30 minutes on the bench discussing this landmark case. Justice Anthony Kennedy, reading from his majority opinion, emphasized that Congress may not censor or regulate political speech, whether it’s a person doing the talking or a corporation or union.

That’s at the core of the First Amendment, Kennedy said, and laws banning speech infringe those basic constitutional protections. Kennedy also pointed out that under those laws, Congress also could diminish the voice of the media business if it chose. Government, he said, may not suppress political speech on the basis of a speaker’s identity.

The odd bit is Mr. Justice Kennedy saying that “…Congress also could diminish the voice of the media business if it chose.” Excuse me, Mr. Justice, but did someone omit the bit about “freedom of the press” from your copy of the Bill of Rights? It’s in there, trust me on that. Maybe you should read it a little more closely.

I wonder if these guys realize that in addition to people like Alan Grayson being replaced by a Disney employee in the Mousetown district, al Qaeda et al. can no longer be banned from running ads on cable if they incorporate.

Call me a traditionalist, but I really think you should be qualified to vote in the country before you get to affect our elections. Voting, after all, is the ultimate form of political speech.

4 comments

1 Steve Bates { 01.21.10 at 10:59 pm }

I am always dumbfounded at the notion that any nonpersonal entity has the same right of speech as a flesh-and-blood human. That’s nuts, on its face… but over the past half century, it has grown to be law.

So… how much speech does a corporate “person” have a right to? Does a stockholder carry one additional unit of speech-right in addition to his or her own? per stockholder, or per share of stock, or per dollar of current value? or is it just one per corporate “person,” and who decides what the speech shall be, the CEO?

I think we received the answer to that question today: a corp has however much speech they can purchase on the open market. How wonderfully capitalist… and how wonderfully anti-democratic. We mere flesh-and-blood human-equivalents, with our extremely limited purchasing power, might as well STFU.

I believe I heard several of our nation’s Founders turn in their graves just now… and I know I heard my Mother and Father turn in their urns in the living room. This ruling must somehow be reversed… how, I haven’t a clue, but I will not rest until persons (the human variety) have the right of speech again, and corp’s don’t.

2 Bryan { 01.21.10 at 11:29 pm }

Frankly, what is needed is a case challenging “corporate personhood” directly, and, in a perverse way, today’s ruling advances that possibly by overturning a lot of the precedents that have been passed down since the original case.

Justice Sotomayor has already indicated that she would like to address this issue, which wasn’t part of this case, because it was felt to be “settled law”. Well, the law has been unsettled, and it should be litigated to end this stupidity.

Money isn’t speech, and it should never have been ruled that it was because the Constitution says “free speech”, not “fee speech”.

3 Mustang Bobby { 01.22.10 at 3:45 am }

It’s also interesting to note that conservatives are willing to grant the rights of citizenship to entities that aren’t entitled to them — Shell Oil or a clump of cells in a woman’s uterus — but deny them to gays and lesbians. Funny how that works. (No, not really funny at all.)
.-= last blog ..Buy and Large =-.

4 Bryan { 01.22.10 at 9:01 pm }

I would say give them all the rights they can handle – if they can get a Florida driver’s license.

The Supreme Court says corporations are people, but the state of Florida wants me to spend over $100 getting the documentation together to prove I am a person, after walking around for over 60 years.