Some things are too important to be left to democracy. Among them are elections.
That was the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to invalidate democratically-enacted restrictions on corporate money sloshing around our elections like bilge water in a ship’s hold.
The legal reasoning employed by Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for himself and four other conservative Republican justices, was a nearly perfect example of magic wand jurisprudence.
The Constitution’s first amendment protects “freedom of speech” from restrictions imposed by the federal government. The fourteenth amendment prohibits the states from limiting the speech of “persons.”
In the press release that accompanied the court’s actions, known in legal jargon as an “opinion,” Justice Kennedy said that money is speech and corporations are persons. And voilà! They really were, if only within the pages of the court’s 183-page press release.
Without that magical thinking, the opinion is simply a restriction on democracy, like the justices’ 1995 ruling that the people cannot be permitted to impose term limits on their members of Congress.
The conservative-dominated Supreme Court first limited democratic control of elections back in 1976 when it canceled post-Watergate reforms. The disastrous consequences are familiar to us all. In 1976, the justices candidly admitted that their objection was to democratic government itself:
In the free society ordained by our Constitution it is not the government, but the people—individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees—who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign.
The court was saying that “the government” is not the same thing as “the people acting collectively.” From the justices’ lofty perspective, the two are, in fact, opposites.
Of course, the justices themselves are “the government.” They’re more powerful than Congress and the President, as their decision yesterday revealed. They’re more powerful than “the people acting collectively.”
So what they really meant was that ultimate authority over campaigns is to be exercised not by the democratic branches of government, and not by the people, but by the justices. That is, by the government, but only its non-democratic branch.
That’s the underlying meaning of yesterday’s decision: the people must not be allowed to govern themselves with regard to the regulation of campaign spending. Only the justices themselves are permitted to do that.
The Supreme Court’s job is to protect American society from democracy.
Corporations, outside the courtroom, aren’t really “persons.” They’re organizations that exist for no purpose but to do the will of their shareholders (in theory) or management (depressingly often in practice). Usually that means their only reason for existence is to make money.
That generally doesn’t mean “make money in the long term.” Nor does it mean “promote conditions that will lead to a beneficial environment for other corporations in a generation or two.” It means make money now. This year, this quarter.
Corporations, when run properly for the benefit of their shareholders, seek enrichment for themselves in the near term. That’s a good thing. It’s why people invest in them.
A well-run corporation has no regard for other companies except to the extent it can benefit from association with them, or damage them, ideally to the point of driving competitors out of business.
Imagine for a moment a real person who thinks like that. This person thinks only of immediate benefit for himself. He looks at other people as resources to be exploited or competitors to be destroyed. He doesn’t worry about the future. Still less is he concerned about the well-being of society as a whole half a century from now..
We have a name for people like that. Psychopath.
Selfishness, short-term thinking, remorselessness – these are the virtues that define a well-run corporation. Found in a real person, those same traits define the most dangerous of mental illnesses.
The Supreme Court has now ruled that artificial “persons” that – quite properly, from an investor’s point of view – exhibit all the traits of psychopaths must be permitted to exert greater control over our elections.
When elected politicians receive millions of dollars in aid from corporations, who are their constituents? The voters, or the artificial “persons” who use advertising and public relations to manipulate the voters’ decisions?
The five robed bureaucrats effectively ruled that the American politicians must focus even more than they already do on serving the interests of artificial “persons” devoted to short-term material gain at whatever cost to the health of society in our children’s lifetime.
And now we can all rest easier, knowing the Supreme Court has, once again, successfully protected us from democracy.
In Our Name by Joel Jacobsen (keep reading)