In a stunning decision that overrules precedent, the Supreme Court has ruled (pdf) that corporations can spend unlimited funds from their general treasury on political campaigns. The court many have the law on its side, using a literal reading of the First Amendment:
“Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” §441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions.”
It seems to me that a strictly literal interpretation of the First Amendment would also prohibit any legislation preventing telemarketing robocalls from computers (thus awarding computers the rights of individuals).
Actually, the Court was not strictly literal in its decision, in that it wrote:
“Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” WRTL, 551 U. S., at 464. This language provides a sufficient framework for protecting the interests in this case. Premised on mistrust of governmentalpower, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. The Government may also commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”
So the Court, in fact, decided that to distinguish between human beings and corporations was discriminatory and unconstitutional. Corporations are essentially granted the rights of individuals, even though unlike individuals, they’re only mandate is to seek profit and not to act as citizens of a democracy (it’s not clear to me, but I think the ruling means that foreign corporations are also free to spend unlimited funds on U.S. political races).
Not being a lawyer, I can’t really speak authoritatively to the Court’s legal logic. However, it does seem to me that the instinct to read literally from texts is a reflection of a religious mode of thinking–as if God himself guided the hand of Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the text of the First Amendment.
We secular people are more attuned to the idea that rules are not infallible, and good judgment is needed when to apply them. It certainly does say that “Congress shall make no law…” but in our experience, any rule taken as infallible is likely to lead us astray in some cases.
Certainly Thomas Jefferson didn’t have computer robot callers in mind when he wrote the First Amendment (not even Christians claim he was a prophet–and Thomas Jefferson wasn’t even a Christian!).
It shouldn’t have to be necessary to amend the Constitution to give it the flexibility to accomodate good judgment. The amendment process is so unwieldy that it is essentially impossible to change when there is not an overwhelming public consensus.
My empathy and compassion as a Humanist extends to other human beings and also to sentient beings of other species. While corporations have their uses, they are legal fictions, not human beings.
I think this is an issue that should unite liberals and conservatives. While certain political operatives may be salivating at the prospect of corporate spending in support of their candidates, the likely result of this ruling, if it cannot be altered through legislation, which is questionable, is that governments will be increasingly run for the benefit of corporations and use their taxing power to raise funds to pay for contracts to said corporations. This will undermine both liberal hopes for more equality and conservative hopes for a less costly government.
Robotic literalism is bad all around.