Citizens United v. FEC; or America, the Incorporated

"Because [corporations] may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters."
Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting opinion

On January 21st, 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 split decision, to overturn decades of campaign finance reform under the guise of First Amendment requirements. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito voted in favor of Citizens United, the nonprofit which brought the lawsuit. Their argument? That their film, Hillary: The Movie, was unfairly prohibited from being screened, since they attempted to broadcast it within 30 days of the 2008 Presidential election.

I would like to point out that I have no legal experience, but even I can see how flawed this decision is. The opinion by Justice Kennedy (the current swing vote on the court) spectacularly fails to explain their decision, delving into such random non-issues like video-on-demand services. Kennedy argues that the movie could not be viewed as electioneering material since it is broadcast on a cable channel as a service (similar to renting from NetFlix).

What is most abhorrent is the continued application of federal constitutional law to corporations viewed as "persons". In the landmark 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations were recognized as "persons", a monumentally flawed precedent which has held since (apparently only some precedents are worth keeping, as evidenced by the pick-and-choose mentality of the current judicial branch--much of the court's decision lies on their interpretation of precedent set in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce). This "corporate personhood" decision is at the heart of the problem, and should be viewed as a colossal failure. The far-reaching nature of this 1886 case is now seen today with the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case.

This horrific decision by the current justices, unless corrected by the legislative and executive branches, will quicken the decline of politics in America. It is a tragedy, a singular death blow dealt to campaign finance reform. Imagine a candidate attempting to get their message out if a corporation floods the airwaves with ads against them. That is the future we are facing with this decision. Some have suggested that this decision is comparable to hanging a big "For Sale" sign around an election.

I attempted to read all of the opinions, but my mind reeled frequently at straw men arguments, often resorting to completely out-of-nowhere topics (corporate democracy??). Occasionally, Kennedy does delve into some interesting ideas, such as the new media and how campaign finance can handle the Internet's widespread usage. In this particular case, three justices issues opinions in favor of the decision (Kennedy, Scalia and Roberts). This indicates that the majority understood the implications of their decision and they felt it necessary to explain their convoluted and flawed judgment.

Justice Stephens wrote the sole dissenting opinion (with Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor concurring in part). My favorite part is this criticism of the majority:

"Unlike our colleagues, [the Founding Fathers] had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind."

This decision is a huge blemish in the Supreme Court's history, and hopefully the other branches of government will correct it. If it takes a constitutional amendment declaring corporations are not people, then so be it. It would be embarrassing to have this in our Constitution, but since this court has taken judicial activism to a whole new level, we may just have to.


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