Friday, 22 January 2010
The Supreme Court's Awful Decision
In a week of rotten political news, it got worse yesterday. The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-to-4 decision, rolled back almost all restrictions on corporate spending in federal election campaigns. And get this: Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the (conservative) majority, said:
"Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy - it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people - political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence."
I'm no legal scholar and those who are, if they read this little blog, would surely dismiss me as an ignorant simpleton, but it looks to me that in that one sentence Justice Kennedy massively contradicts himself. In the Court's unleashing of corporate election spending with no limits, he cites holding officials accountable to the people.
Ahem. Corporations are not people.
Okay, that's not strictly true or, rather, it has been an ongoing debate in legal circles since 1886, with – you guessed it - the doctrine of “corporate personhood” winning most of the time, as it did yesterday. If you are interested in the history and arguments pro and con, Wikipedia has an overview that will get you started on this esoteric, but important concept.
For many years, I have kept a miniature copy of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution on my desk.
I use the little book when various clauses and amendments come up for discussion in politics and the news, like yesterday. I frequently dip into it at random and not infrequently, I read it all the way through. Of all the cultural uber texts, these two documents are my favorites. The Declaration and Constitution are overflowing with references to people.
We the people...
...it becomes necessary for one people...
...all men are created equal...
...it is the right of the people...
...retained by the people...
...reserved...to the people.
...elected by the people...
And so on. These are thrilling documents - and nowhere within them does the word corporation appear. Nevertheless, the personhood doctrine is not just being upheld with this decision, it has been expanded.
Reaction to the decision yesterday was swift and, aside from the usual suspects, negative. Senator Russ Feingold (D. Wisc.) took an historic view in his statement:
“It is important to note that the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold's soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a terrible mistake.
“Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.
“Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was 'firmly embedded in our law.' Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government.
“The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”
Given the nihilism of Congressional Republicans, I don't hold out much hope for Feingold's legislative initiative.
Now that corporations and labor unions can spend as much of their collective trillions as they want not only on issue advertising, but in support or opposition of individual candidates for Congress or president, what possible chance do “we the people” have. This year's mid-term Congressional election will be like no other we have ever seen.
It is bad enough that corporations have bought most of our elected representatives with their campaign contributions. Now they can buy the people's votes. I am heartsick for my country today.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Grandma Ida