The United States Supreme Court yesterday issued a landmark decision on corporate political speech which we – as political centrists – heartily endorse, ruling that free speech can not be suppressed just because of the corporate identity of the speaker. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010).
The number and extent of federal rules and regulations against what corporate entities could say and could not say had gotten totally out of hand.
The court held quite clearly that:
“The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”
In spite of the broad generality of the holding, there was a spread of opinion among the Justices:
“KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA and ALITO, JJ., joined, in which THOMAS, J., joined as to all but Part IV, and in which STEVENS, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined as to Part IV. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a concurring opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined in part. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which GINSBURG,BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.”
The New York Times writes:
“A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government may not ban political spending by corporations, labor unions or other organizations in elections. The court’s majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission swept aside a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance restriction violated the First Amendment’s free speech principles. The dissenters said opening the floodgates to corporate money will corrupt democracy.
How will this decision play out in American politics?”
The New York times is updating opinion on this decision throughout the day:
“We will be updating this discussion with additional commentary throughout the day. Scroll down to read Christopher Cotton, Heather K. Gerken, Eugene Volokh, Richard L. Hasen, Joel Gora, Michael Waldman and Fred Wertheimer in the forum.“
One of the interesting aspects of the decision is the broad “free speech” importance assigned to new social media. Writing for the majority of Justices, Justice Kennedy specifically referred to “blogs and social networking Web sites”:
“Rapid changes in technology—and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression—counsel against upholding a law that restricts political speech in certain media or by certain speakers…. Today, 30-second television ads may be the most effective way to convey a political message…. Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking Web sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues. Yet, §441b would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds…. The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”
Declan McCullagh at CNET News comments this as follows:
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s sweeping ruling on Thursday that invalidated large chunks of campaign finance law arose in part from an unlikely source: the emergence ofFacebook, YouTube, and blogs, and the decline of traditional media outlets.
A 5-4 majority concluded that technological changes have chipped away at the justification for a law that allows individuals to create a blog with opinions about a political candidate–but threatens the ACLU, the National Rifle Association, a labor union, or a corporation with felony charges if they do the same….
Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, called it the “first appearance” of the word “blog” in a Supreme Court opinion. And Google’s video-sharing site is singled out in the conclusion, with Kennedy writing that “skits on YouTube.com” that cast politicians in an unflattering light could give rise to “felony” charges if a corporation dared to post them. “
As a political centrist and – thus far still – an Obama supporter, we nevertheless agree with Rush Limbaugh, who writes:
“RUSH: Let me put this in perspective, this caterwauling of the left over upholding the First Amendment. These people who are upset with American citizens who happen to work in corporations, who happen to be directors in corporations, having the ability to participate in our political process, these are the same people who want to grant constitutional rights to terrorists, and do. These are the same people that want to put on a show trial with the masterminds of the 9/11 disaster, grant them freedom of speech, grant them every constitutional right, including Miranda rights — the Fruit of Kaboom Bomber — and yet they hate American corporations. They have some ingrained, genetic “despisal” of corporations because corporations are competitive. They foster and thrive in free, open markets, all of which are opposed by the left.”
You can not suffocate the most successful institutions of the country’s economic culture and expect to survive – and thrive – in an otherwise very dangerous and competitive world.
As for the alleged corruption of democracy by corporations…. Money talks. It always has. You can not change that by wrongly limiting free speech freedoms.