Justice Alito Defends Citizens United

Citizens UnitedThe Supreme Court justices are making the rounds during their time off and it’s always interesting to hear what these incredibly intelligent men and women think. They generally try to stay pretty far away from controversy but Justice Alito defended the Citizens United decision before the Federalist Society in their annual dinner.

I personally think the Supreme Court is a shining example of our best and brightest although I do disagree with them not infrequently. In this case Justice Alito uses an argument to defend Citizens United that I just couldn’t stomach. I will quote you what he said:

“The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations,” he said. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”

Basically he is suggesting that newspapers, radio stations, television stations, and other media outlets have the right to speak freely as provided by the First Amendment and that right should carry over to every other corporate entity.

He loses me completely here. No newspaper, radio station, television station, or other media outlet has any right to free speech. In fact, they can’t speak at all. They can’t express themselves in any fashion whatsoever. The people who work for those organizations can certainly express themselves as they desire. That is what the First Amendment is all about. No building, no pen, no stone, no piece of paper has a mouth with which to speak or brain with which to formulate a thought. This seems self-evident to me.

This idea that a non-human entity has the right to freedom of speech is absurd. Yes, the writer has that right. The speaker has that right. Can a person donate to any political entity? Of course, that is covered by the First Amendment. Can the owner of a company, the head of a union, a mother, a father, or a teacher donate to a political candidate. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Can a building? Can a piece of paper? Not only is it not allowed by the Constitution but it is also impossible as declared by the physical laws of the universe.

Now, a little history lesson. The reason organizations have what is called Corporate Personhood is primarily to hold such organizations to contractual obligations. This was decided in Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819. It largely limits the ability of the government to interfere in a private contract. The other reason it exists is to allow people to sue such entities.

I cannot see any justifiable reason why a state legislature or the federal government cannot ban giving money to a political candidate by an organization. If they tried to prevent an individual from giving, then I would have a problem. In the end, it is an individual giving. A person or people start an organization, gather money from other individuals, and then someone makes a decision on how to distribute that money to politicians. Dandy. I say make them do it under their real name and donate the money the same way. In the end the result is the same except there is at least a clarity of who is doing what instead of a mass of twisted paths wherein no one knows who is donating to what campaign. This openness is desirable.

That being said, I actually welcome the clarification Citizen’s United brings. Before this case there was largely an illusion that our politicians were not bought and sold by those who financed their campaign. That veneer is now destroyed. It is clear that we are not becoming a plutocracy, we are a plutocracy.

Those who think that moneyed interests were thwarted in the recent election are living in a fantasy world. Moneyed interests control both major parties all but completely. That is a topic for another day.

Tom Liberman

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