Blog: BUZZ TestOur second week of guest blogging continues with former city councilor Russ Stewart, the quality of whoms columns in the Transistor seem to increase with the more f-bombs he uses. Unfortunately, I can't print f-bombs, but Russ graciously still agreed to do a guest blog anyway.
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
Guest blogger: Russ Stewart
Our second week of guest blogging continues with former city councilor Russ Stewart, the quality of whoms columns in the Transistor seem to increase with the more f-bombs he uses. Unfortunately, I can't print f-bombs, but Russ graciously still agreed to do a guest blog anyway.
Limit the Power of Government, Not the Right To Free Speech
The leftist progressives of the Democratic Party are spitting mad at the Supreme Court’s decision in People United vs. FEC. They have portrayed this decision as a victory for the bogeyman they know as “corporate America,” a thing they, out of fear, portray as evil. Like their doppelgangers on the far right, when they are afraid, they seek to curtail civil liberties. In this case, the left is fuming because Court had the audacity to affirm that corporate entities have a right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Critics of the Court’s decision argue that the decision treats corporations as “natural persons.” They claim that only “natural persons” have constitutional rights. They are wrong on both counts.
First, critics of the decision are factually in error. Neither the current Supreme Court, nor any other, has ever ruled that corporations are natural persons. In fact, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, said “The Court has thus rejected the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not ‘natural persons.’” In this statement we see that the court has in fact affirmed that corporations are not “natural persons.” Corporations are “associations of people,” as in the First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble.” The court affirmed that associations of people are guaranteed the right to free speech by striking down a 1990 Supreme Court decision that had, for the first time in American history, ruled otherwise.
Second, critics are philosophically in error. They argue that only “natural persons” should be guaranteed the right to free speech. This belief contradicts both history and logic. Since the founding of our nation, it has consistently been held that associational speech is protected. Religious organizations, political parties, and newspapers have always been guaranteed the right to free speech. Nothing in law or history can provide a basis for singling out the corporate form of association for discriminatory treatment in this regard. The New York Times, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU are all corporations. Can anyone seriously deny that these organizations do not enjoy the fundamental right to free speech? As the majority opinion in Citizens United states, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
Critics have argued that the Citizens United decision has reversed over 100 years of legislative and judicial precedent. Those who believe this are clearly ignorant of the actual content of the ruling. In fact, the Court affirmed, consistent with the Tillman Act of 1907, that corporate entities may be restricted with regard to “direct contributions” to candidates for office. The Court did overturn a 20 year old precedent, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, in which the court had ruled that political speech may be banned based on the speaker’s corporate identity. In doing so, the Roberts Court has re-established the longstanding tradition that associations of people, in any form, are guaranteed the right to free speech.
The Citizens United decision is a strong victory for free speech and should be applauded by anyone who truly values liberty. The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was premised on the Austin ruling’s contention that associational speech is not protected by the First Amendment. This leads directly to the conclusion that Congress determines which associations may be granted free speech and which may not. McCain-Feingold grants “media corporations” a greater measure of free speech protection than it affords other corporations, but as Chief Justice Roberts notes in his concurring opinion, this is merely a matter of “legislative grace.” The idea that an association’s right to free speech depends on the largesse of Congress is repugnant to everything the First Amendment stands for.
That people are angry at “corporate America” is not surprising. Corporations have been petitioning government for favorable treatment since their very origin. They seek financial subsidies, legislative protections, differential tax rates and all manner of special treatment. In the last two years we have seen the largest transfer of wealth from the public coffers to private banking, insurance, and mortgage businesses in the history of the world. People are rightfully outraged at this legislatively enabled theft.
However, their anger should not lead them to abridge the liberties that make our society great. The freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are sacrosanct. Even in the face of corporate abuse, the freedom of speech may not be abridged.
So what is the solution?
Just say no. When corporations use their right to free speech to ask for governmental favors, congress must say “no.” And since politicians cannot be trusted, they must not be given the option of saying “yes.” The founders knew this. That is why the United States Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8, specifies a set of enumerated powers granted to Congress by the people. Over the past several decades, omnipotent government constrained only by the capricious wills of elected officials has slowly replaced the concept of limited government with specified powers. We no longer have the rule of law, but of men: the very thing the Constitution was to protect us against.
We must return to the idea of limited government and refuse to let congress have the power to do favors for corporate interests. The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to become a majority shareholder in GM, to bailout AIG, or to require citizens to buy health insurance, yet in the past two years the government has done, or attempted to do, each of these things.
The solution, therefore, is not to limit the liberty of individuals or associations of individuals, but to limit the power of government. It is time to reign in Congress by any means necessary. For as long as the government can do favors for corporate America, it will.