Steven I. Weissman, Attorney

January 24, 2010

Supreme Court’s Campaign Finance Ruling:  Recreating It’s Endorsement of Slavery

Democracy cannot co-exist with the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  Based on the idea that the constitutional right to free speech applies to corporations as if they are human beings, a deeply divided 5-4 majority swept away 100 years of limitations on corporate control of our country.  In doing so, the Court invalidated laws enacted by our duly elected congressional representatives to protect us from corporate domination.  The Justices were primarily divided straight down political lines: Republican appointees in favor of what amounts to a corporate takeover of the USA, the Democratic appointees against.

The history of the Supreme Court sadly reflects that this is not the first time it has wrongly withheld the constitutional protection of free speech from humans, while ruling in favor of powerful economic interests.   On March 6, 1857 the Court ruled that black people were inferior animals and therefore they had no human rights under the constitution, including free speechDred Scott v. Sandford (Wikepedia):

“The only relevant question, therefore, was whether, at the time the Constitution was ratified, Scott could have been considered a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. According to the Court, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as

‘beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’

The Court also presented a parade of horribles argument as to the feared results of granting Mr. Scott’s petition:

‘It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.’”

The editorial in The Evening Journal of Albany, New York, denouncing the Dred Scott decision is just as pertinent to this week’s decision as it was in 1857:

“The three hundred and forty-seven thousand five hundred and twenty-five Slaveholders in the Republic, accomplished day before yesterday a great success — as shallow men estimate success. They converted the Supreme Court of Law and Equity of the United States of America into a propagandist of human Slavery. . . The conspiracy is nearly completed. The Legislation of the Republic is in the hands of this handful of Slaveholders. The United States Senate assures it to them. The Executive power of the Government is theirs. . . All who . . . hate Aristocracy, compact yourselves together for the struggle which threatens your liberty and will test your manhood!”

Contrary to the majority ruling, the constitutional protection of free speech does not require that corporations be free to dominate political campaigns and strike fear into the heart of any politician who dares oppose them.  The Declaration of Independence is crystal clear:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration plainly contemplates that human rights, such as free speech, are afforded to all men (not corporations) by “their Creator.”

Lincoln believed this sentence stated the principals through which the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted.   On August 17, 1858 in Lewistown, Illinois, during his Senate contest with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln spoke these words:

“Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence; if you have listened to suggestions which would take away from its grandeur . . . let me entreat you to come back. Return to the fountain whose waters spring close by the blood of the Revolution. Think nothing of me—take no thought for the political fate of any man whomsoever—but come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence. . .”

The ruling effectively declares that corporate powers have the constitutional right to employ million ton bullhorns and drown out our pesky human voices.  This decimates the right to free speech guaranteed to human beings.   With their vast pooled wealth, corporations can use slick Madison Avenue productions to dominate the airwaves and speak far louder than humans.  What kind of perverted result can vast pooled wealth obtain – look no further than the triumph of slavery in the Court’s Dred Scott ruling.  While purporting to preserve free speech, the Supreme Court has rigged the system so that the human voice may fade into obscurity.  What will the corporations say with their new right to unlimited political campaigning?  Consider that virtually everything that is good for humans is bad for the corporate bottom line. Unlike humans, corporations don’t need clean air, they don’t need medical care, don’t need safe working conditions, don’t want to be sued for maiming or killing people with defective products and the lower wages are, the better.

Ironically, the more U.S. citizens struggle to avoid foreclosure, keep a job, and obtain medical care, the further political issues slide down their daily priority list for survival.   Perhaps this sad reality is the reason the Supreme Court’s ruling failed to spark mass protests and riots.  Hell, on most networks, it wasn’t even a top story.  Maybe the story has low priority because the networks are, after all, corporate owned.

Citizens who understand the dire implications have a duty to speak up. Although far from being a bastion of Democracy, when the Pakistani government fiddled with its legal system, lawyers were at the forefront of the resistance (New York Times, November 6, 2007):

“The Musharraf government’s resolve to silence its fiercest opponents was evident in the strength of the crackdown by baton-wielding police officers who pummeled lawyers and then hauled them by the legs and arms into police wagons in Lahore. . . Some of the lawyers were bleeding from the head, and some passed out in clouds of tear gas.”

Here too, U.S. lawyers and all those who treasure freedom must speak out – while we still can.  Unfortunately, it may be particularly difficult to spread the message through the corporate owned and dominated media, which treasures its newly acquired human rights.