Polemics & Exchanges

Corporate Rights

Tom Piatak’s contrarian view of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (“Obama Versus the Supreme Court,” Vital Signs, May) is convincing and well stated.  It is useful, however, to realize why conservative headline readers, those who probably did not peruse the actual decision or Justice Stevens’ dissent, are likely to think it a good ruling.  A 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation whose raison d’etre is political speech finds itself denied, during the critical 30 days before a Democratic presidential primary election, the ability to advertise and distribute a film criticizing a major candidate.  That’s an injustice, and, on its face, it seems a violation of the First Amendment.

But what started out as a limited First Amendment case turned into something far more sweeping.  A majority of the Supreme Court—the four conservatives and swing voter Justice Kennedy—transformed the case into an opportunity to declare virtually unlimited freedom for corporations to spend money on any political issue.

Corporate personhood is the term for treating corporations like natural persons.  Freedom of speech, which in the First Amendment is manifestly designated for individuals only (excepting one kind of business, the press) was long ago extended by the Supreme Court, with...

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