Free Speech

Dave Hardy notes some interesting tidbits in the dissent in the Citizens United case. Namely that the dissenters on the court seem to believe that there ought to be no free speech rights for corporations. So we have free speech as individuals, but if you get together in a group you have no free speech.

Makes sense to me! It used to be you could count on the “liberal” wing of the Supreme Court to be steadfast in defense of civil liberties. I guess not anymore.

24 thoughts on “Free Speech”

  1. This ruling is ridiculous because corporations are not persons in any sense of the word. The idea that they are and enjoy the same legal protections is ridiculous and hardly passes a simple logic test. The last thing we need is large companies influencing the political process anymore than they are now.

  2. This is one that I could see either way. One is that a corporation is no more than a group of people, and thus would have all the rights any other group of people would receive.

    The other is that a corporation is not a group of people, but a separate entity created by people for a specific purpose – typically the creation of wealth. Since corporations are subject to different laws than people generally, it appears this is the legal precedent that has been established. Corporations are not treated as a group of people, but as independent entities guided by people. As such, they are not protected by the bill of rights.

    The first interpretation is definitely simpler and more straightforward, but that interpretation has not been used by our court system in the past. Honestly, I don’t see this ruling making much of a difference either way. The past laws had plenty of loopholes, so corporations were funneling tons of money into the political system as it was. I think the political ad market is basically saturated at this point, so even if they can funnel even more money in now, they’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

  3. The Constitution says that the Congress is not to make any law abridging free speech. It doesn’t say that only individuals have the right to free speech.

    FOX News and MSNBC are corporations. Are they not allowed the right to free speech? Of course they are.

    Democrats are upset because they know that corporations – which can be small businesses – are against Cap and Trade and they don’t want them to be able to say so.

  4. I agree that corporations are of course entitled to the same free speech in terms of doing business, advertising etc as everyone else. However, because they are not individuals, much less citizens of this country, they should not be entitled to political speech.

    Would anyone like to argue they should now be given the right to vote? After all, they are individuals right? We dont want to take away their supposed rights?

    And for the argument that they are groups of individuals, I find that empty. Each one of those individuals is entitled to free speech and the ability fo make campaign contributions. Nobody is being disenfranchised here.

    1. As a practical matter, it is hard to imagine any constitutional liberty that could not be reduced to a hollow joke if we refused to count as an infringement any regulation that nominally targeted only the corporate mechanism for coordinating its exercise.

      Having dispensed with the repellent doctrine of corporate personhood, we can happily declare that journalists enjoy full freedom of the press … as long as they don’t plan on using the resources of the New York Times Company or Random House or Comcast, which as mere legal fictions can be barred from using their property to circulate unpatriotic ideas. You’re free to practice your religion without interference — but if it’s an unpopular one, well, let’s hope you don’t expect to send your kids to a religious school or build a church or something, because those tend to involve incorporating. A woman’s right to choose is sacrosanct, but since clinics and hospitals are mere corporations with no such protection, she’d better hope she knows a doctor who makes house calls.

      As a purely ethical matter, of course corporations as such don’t have rights. As a practical matter, though, rights that wither at the corporate touch won’t do you a whole lot of good in the 21st century.

      Julian Sanchez

  5. That still has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a corporation is a for profit business not a citizen of the United States. Hence my example of the right to vote. If a company cant vote, it shouldn’t be able to make campaign contributions. Why not let foreigners contribute while we’re at it. I mean, they have rights too?

    It’s rather easy to get lost in the rhetoric. Why don’t we argue 2+2=5 or that dogs are people? Sure they are silly examples, but it’s even sillier to think that McDonalds is a person same as you and me.

    I’m not saying rules dont need to be made to address these issues, but starting with common sense would surely be a big help.

  6. So essentially a non-collective right. And it appears that the .gov gets to pick which rights are collective, and which aren’t.


  7. Again, rhetoric without substance. When corporations are US citizens with voting rights, I’ll accept the argument they can contribute to campaigns. Until then, they are businesses.

    Why many conservatives are rightly scared of power concentrated in the hands of government, but for some odd reason not in power concentrated in corporations is beyond me.

  8. Why many conservatives are rightly scared of power concentrated in the hands of government, but for some odd reason not in power concentrated in corporations is beyond me.

    Because a corporation can’t throw me in jail, and I have the option of not buying the product the corporation is selling.

  9. Corporations are not just for-profit. There are also non-profit corporations, and many of those are created specifically for the purpose of representing members of that corporation. This is especially true in our issue, as the NRA is a corporation, my local gun club is a corporation, as are most of the business entities who serve us.

    It doesn’t make any sense at all to suggest that rights belong to individuals, but that those individuals can’t get together, and form a corporation for the purposes of speaking out for their interests. That’s not how a free society works.

    Does that address your concern? Or is this just more conservative rhetoric to you?

  10. If not rhetoric, then it still misses the entire point as every response thus far has. Explain to me in what way corporations are individuals?

    Are they human? Are they born to at least one American citizen parent? Do they have a driver’s license or passport perhaps? Were they naturalized citizens? Are they thus required to attend school until a certain grade? Oh and do they have the right to vote? Corporations are entities that exist on paper only! How can a legal construction honestly be the same as a human being? It can’t.

    If you can wrap your head around the idea corporations are not human beings (check a dictionary) AND accept that corporations DO NOT have the right to vote, then you implictly admit they are in fact an entity, but not the same type as you and I.

    Once you admit this, then one can no longer argue that they are entitled to the exact same rights as American citizens. Thus, we open the argument to regulation. Groups of citizens organizing for political purposes already exist. They’re called political parties or political action committes. Corporations exist to do business and nothing else.

  11. Explain to me in what way corporations are individuals?

    It’s a legal fiction established to limit the liability of a corporation’s shareholders for the actions of the corporation. That’s a distinct issue as to whether persons, acting through a corporation, still have a constitutional right to free speech, and to what extend they have it. A corporation is not an individual, to the extent they are treated that way is purely a legal fiction.

  12. In short, no one here was arguing that corporations are people. You’re the one arguing that. We’re arguing that people, collectively, still have a right to free speech, no matter what legal construct they choose for their organization.

  13. Yes, I do understand the idea of legal fiction which is part of what I’m arguing against. I also understand people do have the right to free speech. But since corporations are not people, they do not. All 10,000 people in the company I work for can vote and enjoy their civil rights as Americans. Nobody is being left out. Nobody has lost their rights. I fail to see how anyone can argue otherwise.

  14. Because you’re saying people can’t get together and speak collectively if they choose a corporation as their organizational construct. Free speech is meaningless if you can speak out individually, but can’t freely associate with other people and speak out.

    A corporation is really the only organizational construct available that works. Every interest group, from NAACP, ACLU, NRA, NOW, NRWC, the list goes on, are organized as corporations. Their members pay them to advocate for issues that are important to them.

    If you’re saying people can’t do that, you’re taking away my right to speak out collectively with other people who share my interest. You’re getting hung up on corporate non-personhood without considering that corporations are composed of people who are free being and are endowed with rights they can exercise either individually or collectively.

  15. You’re clearly misrepresenting my arguments.

    My argument that giving corporations the same rights as individuals is a perversion of both our civil rights and democracy.

    I have not once said that people should not be able to organize. If you’ll take note of the organizations you mention, it is clear they are different in nature from businesses. Perhaps we can both agree there should be a different name/structure/ruleset for those and for actual businesses not engaged in politics?

    Moreover, the fact that the idea of legal fiction exists further proves my point that corporations are in and of themselves different than individuals and thus should be subject to different rules.

  16. So you would, presumably, be fine with non-profit corporations being able to represent their interests on behalf of their members, but for-profit corporations not being able to represent their interests on behalf of their shareholders?

    I can see a distinction could be made there, but I’m not sure why one purpose should have free speech and the other none.

  17. You’ve understood my point perfectly, and yes I would be fine with the situation you describe.

    One purpose is made of citizens who are assembling with the express purpose of pursuing a political agenda. The agenda they promote is one directly supported by them and for their individual ‘political profit’ so to say.

    A corporation has a purely business purpose, not political, and is not made of citizens assembling for political cause. Thus, the company you work for may support Greens or Democrats which naturally would not represent you, nor be part of engageing in business. It would serve the interests of a 3rd party, the company, whose interests are not necessarily those of the people in it.

  18. Chirol,

    Then for-profit corporations should also be denied other rights like protection from unreasonable search and seizure? Due Process? Trial by Jury?

    Where do you draw the line?

  19. No. You’re missing the point. Since the issue at hand is campaign finance, I’m focusing on an alleged corporate right to engage in political activity. We’ve already established, I’ve noted I agree that obviously corporations do exist as legal entities entitled to certain protections. However, as I’ve explained, since they are not citizens and do not have the right to vote, they should not be able to finance elections.

    With that I’ll give you the final word.

  20. And I’ll take it: the owners and directors of corporations don’t need a “right” to use their entities’ resources for political speech ITFP.

    It is instead the State which needs a valid and supportable justification for abnormally exceeding the already existing strict and severe limitations on its ability to use force or the threat of force to compel them to refrain from doing so.

    The State’s power to use force or apply the threat of the use of force is by-default limited regardless of the nature of the entity against which it intends to do so. It is the State which needs permission; the Citizenry are fundamentally free to do whatever the heck they want.

    That is the basic point of the existence of the United States of America, which you are missing. The State is subject to the Citizenry, and needs their permission to act, not the other way around.

    Again, to underline the point, because of how many people appear to have a nigh-incurable blind spot about it: it doesn’t matter whether private Citizens use their own resources or the owners and directors of corporations use the resources of said entity to engage in political speech. The already existing strict and severe limitations on the State’s power take precedence over such considerations.

    In short, you need to first demonstrate why the State should be allowed to abnormally exceed those already existing strict and severe limitations on its power.

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