The Supreme Court of the United States sent ripples of controversy through our democratic process when by a vote of 5 conservative justices to 4 liberal justices, they decided that corporations could spend as much as they wanted on election advertising, and cited free speech as the reason.
The historic decision was handed down by SCOTUS in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-25, and struck down two decades of court rulings dealing with the issue of corporate spending on elections. In 1990 SCOTUS upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose candidates in Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce. In 2003 SCOTUS upheld the restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and unions voted into law by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, otherwise known as the McCain-Feingold Act. As recently as 2007, SCOTUS narrowed the definition and reach of McCain-Feingold.
Senator John McCain R-AZ, co-sponsor of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act, told reporters that he was troubled by the “extreme naïveté” some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.
At the heart of the SCOTUS decision was the viewpoint that corporations and unions had the same rights under the First Amendment as do individuals.
“The court took a step toward restoring the First Amendment rights [of corporations and unions],” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-KY who defended the court’s decision, “By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “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.”
From a liberal standpoint, any ruling that furthers freedom of speech and weakens censorship, whether it be for individuals or legal entities should be applauded, however, this form of free speech will likely have lasting effects on how political campaigns will evolve into the future.
Opponents to the ruling fear that the entire government of the people, by the people and for the people will now be controlled by the corporate interests willing to throw the most money at any particular side of an issue or candidate until eventually the entire government, even SCOTUS will be controlled by corporate shills and pawns.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote 90 pages, and warned that the ruling not only threatens democracy but “will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”
So who was right, the majority or the minority?
“When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
This is a very broad view of the First Amendment because it states in no uncertain terms, the court’s belief that all responsible adults have the freedom to think for themselves and that the government has no right to regulate how people think or how they express their thoughts and feelings. But this ruling not only ensures free speech in regards to campaigns and elections, we must hold this court to that same standard when ruling on attempts by the government to regulate free speech on television, free speech on the internet, free speech on the radio, free speech in print and written word, free speech in art, and all other forms of free expression, and all should be viewed equally. Based on this decision, morality laws and lifestyle laws should now all be easily overturned by SCOTUS granting individuals and groups of people “the freedom to think for ourselves,” under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Some examples of immediate savings to taxpayers which could be reaped as the result of yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling:
The FCC can now be disbanded which will be an immediate savings of over $338 million in annual savings to taxpayers. There will no longer be any need for the FCC to regulate the television and communications industry in general, as their will no longer be any need for censorship and content regulation. Based on this ruling, corporate sponsors should be able to sponsor any content at any time for any reason under free speech protection. For example, if the NFL decides that it would help ratings and be profitable to have half-time shows with explicit porn, the FCC could not fine the television networks for a Super Bowl Sunday, half-time Porn Extravaganza. I’m sure it would get better ratings than Bruce Springstein or even the Who. People are still talking about the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction.”
Law enforcement will save billions, as they will be able to take valuable law enforcement resources that are currently being spent on busting porn, prostitution, gambling, drug enforcement, and all the other lifestyle laws and regulations which don’t allow responsible, consenting adults “the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Yesterday was a great day for freedom, there is no reason to fear freedom, there is only the need to savor its taste and gain nourishment from its life-giving spring.
Photo credit: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. attends a press conference in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010. Israel’s prime minister on Sunday accused the Palestinians of holding up the Mideast peace process, after Washington’s Mideast envoy suggested the U.S. might impose sanctions on Israel to press it to make additional concessions. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Sources: The NY Times, The Atlantic, The NY Times Editorial, Wikipedia, FCC.gov