No one should be surprised by the public outrage towards the High Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, because people care about their individual rights and liberty, care about the fundamental values this nation stands for, care about the democracy of their country. I have seen reactions from citizens who rarely pay attention to politics expressing total shock and disbelief. Citizens see clearly that with this decision the nation’s and multinational powerful economic interests are on their way marching onto the dominance in our electoral process, the individual citizens’ voice is to become overwhelmingly weak, and our already weakened democracy is to become further dysfunctional.
In one of my posts, I quoted Joseph Costello, “One should approach the legacy of the Founding Fathers with a sense of reverence and awe. It is the brightest shining governance star ever created by the mind of man.” The Founding Fathers framed our democracy with the belief and emphasis “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”. It is this framework that empowers the people to make this nation a nation where individual liberty is protected, and freedom flourishes. Make no mistake that, in this framework, corporations are not included to bear the same unalienable Rights. That is not an omission, not a negligence. That is by design. Because, as the Constitution starts, WE THE PEOPLE are what to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. NOTHING ELSE!
In fact, the founders explicitly indicated that corporations are not people, as Chief Justice John Marshall referred to the corporation as an “artificial being, invisible, intangible“. And they had warned us on the possible challenge corporations could impose to this framework. Thomas Jefferson told us that America must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” And “…there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations, ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.“
Abraham Lincoln went straight to the heart of the endangerment, “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
Our political arena these days is amazingly polarized. There are big sharks out there who enjoy thoroughly politicizing everything. But this should not be viewed as a liberal issue, or a progressive issue, or a conservative issue. This is about common citizenship against special interests taking away common citizenship. It is about restoring the institutional integrity of the democratic process. It’s worth to note that it was Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican president, who called for public financing of elections and told Congress, “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” It was also president Roosevelt who signed the Tillman Act in 1907, which banned corporate donations to federal campaigns.
Now, let’s take a look at the case and ruling process.
Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization, sought to run television commercials promoting its film Hillary: The Movie, a documentary critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and to show the movie on DirecTV. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA)(AKA McCain-Feingold), 2 U.S.C. § 441b, prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. In January 2008, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the commercials violated provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) restricting “electioneering communications” 30 days before primaries. The Court found that the film had no other purpose than to discredit Clinton; Citizens United argued that the film was fact-based and nonpartisan.
The Supreme Court docketed this case on August 18, 2008, and heard oral arguments on March 24, 2009. A decision was expected sometime in the early summer months of 2009.
However, on June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the parties to re-argue the case on September 9, 2009.
Instead of looking into the case itself, and whether the ruling of the District Court, after hearing all parties, would hold legal ground, the five Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas, decided to re-argue the case themselves. They motioned it to an matter of an entirely different magnitude: corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. They used it as a vehicle to finalize a happy-ending of an over-a-century power-influence pursuit of the special interests and their lobbyists. In doing so, they overturn two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). This unprecedentedly process redefines the roles of the Court system and Judges and Justices working within them. It contradicts Justice Roberts’ own understanding of these roles:
“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire. Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedents, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.”
“I will remember that it is my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
“I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. … It is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided.”
“The role of the judge is limited; the judge is to decide the cases before them; they’re not to legislate; they’re not to execute the laws.”
They RULED that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited, because doing so would be in noncompliance with the First Amendment. And Justice Kennedy wrote: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
This is truly amazing! Engaging in political speech = Corporate Funding political campaigns? Jailing associations of citizens? Limiting corporate funding in elections is in noncompliance with the First Amendment?
I found it amusing that the five justices of concurrences for this ruling would somehow believe the intelligence of the citizens and common sense could be so bluntly insulted.
The First Amendment, submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789 and adopted on December 15, 1791, was to amend the Constitution, in part, for its lack of adequate guarantees for civil liberties. The entire text for the First Amendment reads the follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Reading the above simple text, and knowing a little bit of the background and the intent, can any one, let alone the highest authorities of law, not derive to the conclusion that (1) the First Amendment addresses protecting rights and civil liberties for the people, and (2) money is not speech? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights“, as dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared during oral hearings.
Any attempt of interpreting the above text to suggest the First Amendment implies that the rights outlined in it and the civil liberties it intends to protect should also apply to non-human entities is absurd and manipulative.
Apparently, this AMBIQUITY by not putting down the words NOT Corporation was all Justice Roberts and his allies needed to crack the dam open.
Before the flood washes off our democracy entirely, we have no choice but fix it, with legislative and constitutional remedies:
- support Fair Elections Now Act
- push for a Constitution amendment that firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Dear fellow citizens, this ruling puts our democracy in endangerment. Thus the individual liberty and constitutional rights for each and every one of us are in jeopardy. It exposes how venerable our democratic system can be. Now it is time for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and all in between, to be united as ONE in saving our democracy, for ourselves, for our children, and for generations to come.