More on Corporations and Free Speech

Burning BooksFollowing the Supreme Court ruling that our First Amendment right to free speech applied to corporations’ speech regarding candidates for federal office – a ruling started when the FEC banned a movie – many have hysterically claimed this represents the end of democracy.

However, not extending First Amendment rights to corporations is a far greater threat to liberty. Should freedom of religion not apply to churches? Should freedom of the press not apply to corporate newspapers? Should freedom of speech not apply to book publishers? (Indeed, some already contend campaign finance restrictions should allow the government to censor books). Julian Sanchez expounds on this theme:

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. Fill in your own scenarios, it’s easy.

The Tax Foundation’s Joe Henchman posits, “If corporations shouldn’t have free speech rights, they shouldn’t be taxed either.”

Roger Pilon takes to task the New York Times hyperbole, noting their opposition to any form of private spending on political campaigns

save, of course, for those contributions that take the form of editorials coming from such corporate giants as The New York Times, which the First Amendment would continue to protect. Now there is a vision that warms the soul of the Great Gray Lady.

Don Boudreaux equally mocks the Los Angeles Times editorial

Criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, Erwin Chemerinsky asserts that “There is no way to see this other than as the conservative justices using judicial review to advance the traditional conservative ideological agenda” (“Conservatives embrace judicial activism in campaign finance ruling,” Jan. 23).

Really? Then why did both the AFL-CIO and the ACLU submit amicus briefs to the Court in support of the eventual winning outcome? Do these two organizations now embrace “the traditional conservative ideological agenda”? Seems unlikely.

The better explanation for this ruling is that the five justices in the majority sincerely believe that government restrictions on corporate campaign spending do, in fact, violate the First amendment – a belief that is neither “conservative” nor “liberal,” just commonsensical.

Finally, Glenn Greenwald, from the left, defends the rule of law:

Either the First Amendment allows these speech restrictions or it doesn’t. In general, a law that violates the Constitution can’t be upheld because the law produces good outcomes (or because its invalidation would produce bad outcomes).

One of the central lessons of the Bush era should have been that illegal or unconstitutional actions — warrantless eavesdropping, torture, unilateral Presidential programs — can’t be justified because of the allegedly good results they produce (Protecting us from the Terrorists). The “rule of law” means we faithfully apply it in ways that produce outcomes we like and outcomes we don’t like.