New Boss, Same as the Old Boss! Welcome to the Corporate States of America! No matter how much things change, they just seem to stay the same! OK, enough of the clichés. The Supreme Court of the United States, in handing down its decision in the notable case of Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, has committed its most hideous error since the Dred Scott Case. The Dred Scott case, for those in tune with history, pretty much was the straw the broke the camel’s back and led directly to the American Civil War and the horrible slaughter of 600,000 soldiers. Make no mistake; these decisions do have far reaching impact. We’ll talk a little bit about the Dred Scott case, what it means in American History, and then discuss the Citizens United Case.
Meet Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, pictured above on the left. It was Judge Taney who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case, and really deserves to take center stage in this disaster. To begin with, Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom. For those of us living in the U.S., slavery of Africans stolen from their homeland and exploited as unpaid laborers is a pivotal issue burned into our history. The legacy of slavery may be the most defining and enduring issue of who we are as a people. By the time of the Dred Scott Case, decided in 1857, tensions were already very high between the free states of the north, and the slave holding states of the south, with tensions growing because of the westward expansion of the country. Would the new states annexed by the U.S. be “free soil”, or slave holding? The Missouri Compromise decided that Missouri would be slave holding, where Dred Scott resided with his “owners.” To make a really long story very short, Judge Taney, interpreting the U.S. Constitution, ruled on several matters:
People of African descent imported as slaves are not covered by the Constitution.
The U.S. congress has no authority to limit slavery in the territories.
As property, slaves cannot be taken away from their owners without due process.
The resulting tensions culminated in the bloodbath that became the Civil War. Calling this decision a disaster fails to give it its due place in history; it nearly destroyed a struggling young nation haunted by its original sin of an evil institution. As a related thought, reflect on the concept of stealing North America from its native inhabitants, and populating it with people stolen from Africa to be oppressed as slaves. Perhaps a higher authority should declare the United States of America as unconstitutional! Dred Scott is pictured top right for those who have never seen what he looked like.
Will the Citizens United case be as disastrous as Dred Scott? It’s certainly not going to result in another civil war, but I believe will result in a wider split of corporate dominance than currently exists. But more important, it has the same reckless, cavalier disregard for basic civil and personal values we value as a people. In the middle, at the beginning of this piece, meet Judge Roberts. While he didn’t author the majority opinion in the Citizens United case, he sided with the majority, and as Chief Justice he bears the same responsibility here as Taney did in Dred Scott. This decision will create nothing more than the Corporate States of America, with individual citizens being drowned out by the flood of corporate cash into our electoral system. As the Dred Scott decision divided the country, the Citizens United decision will further the divide between the corporate class and the working poor. Let’s take a close look at what this disaster means to American style democracy.
For well over 100 years, our elected representatives, or most of them, have favored some type of control over how much money should flood the campaigns of those running for elected office. As far back as the first Roosevelt administration at the turn of the 20th century, it was recognized that corporate power and their control over massive resources would give them unfair advantage in supporting certain candidates for office. Indeed, Roosevelt himself sought to totally eliminate corporate money entering the campaigns of those running for office. The reason for these prohibitions should be obvious. First, and foremost, corporations are artificial creations of the state set up for commerce. They lack the bodily functions of a human being, and they can live indefinitely. Second, and most important, they were never intended to receive the same protections under the U.S. Bill of Rights as citizens. The Citizens United case broadly, and generally, as in the Dred Scott case, provides for three sweeping changes to the laws of the universe:
It removes spending limits by corporations for political campaigns.
Corporations have the same 1st amendment rights of speech as human beings.
In the wisdom of the court, cash contributions are equivalent to free speech.
The irrationality of the majority opinion of the court should be obvious, but what remains is some sort of explanation of why they ruled as they did. For that, we need only look at the maintenance and preservation of power and the ruling class. In Taney’s day we were dealing with the preservation of the great wealth generated by the exploitation of slaves; in our day the great wealth generated by the multi-national corporatocracy. The logic that the court used in the Citizens United case is laughable, but unless fixed will have very serious consequences. With the court’s logic, corporations are now citizens with the 1st amendment right of speech as defined by the constitution. Justice Kennedy actually wrote the majority opinion, so let’s quote Kennedy directly.
“Quite apart from the purpose or effect of regulation content, moreover, the Government may commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each”.
The above sounds wonderful until it’s made very clear that the “disadvantaged person or class” that Kennedy is talking about are the artificial organizations called corporations. Again, talking about corporate speech, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers”. And, “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection ‘simply because its source is a corporation’”. Again, even more Machiavellian, “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’”.
It really isn’t necessary to elucidate about the overreaching influence that corporations have over our civil society. The Supreme Court in the Citizens United case has stripped away any doubt about who really rules American society.
It’s too early to tell what the total impact of this decision will be. But there is no doubt that it will increase corporate influence. What role will civil disobedience play in correcting this asinine insult to everyones intelligence? It remains to be seen. Perhaps the ruling corporate class has finally taken its conceit one step too far, resulting in a positive reaction by the working class. Time will tell. Stay tuned!