The poorly considered Supreme Court Decision
Some trenchant remarks by Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens may have had his tongue in his cheek, or perhaps wanted merely to taunt the majority, when he wrote in Thursday’s opinion on the role of corporations in national politics: “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech.” It is a tantalizing notion.
Suppose that General Motors Corp., troubled that a candidate for Congress from Michigan was too favorable to the United Auto Workers, decided to do everything in its corporate power to defeat that candidate. So, aside from spending huge sums of its own money (none of it federal bailout money) to influence the outcome, it went to the office of the voting registrar in downtown Detroit. It sought to sign up, affirming that it was a citizen and resident of Michigan. Denied registration, it sued, claiming that, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it was a “person,” and, as a “citizen,” it was entitled to equal protection under the election laws. Would the Supreme Court buy that?
General Motors might already be halfway to winning its lawsuit. It has been understood, for decades, that corporations are “persons” under the Constitution. And nothing the Supreme Court said Thursday undermined that notion. If anything, the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission conferred new dignity on corporate “persons,” treating them — under the First Amendment free-speech clause — as the equal of human beings.
At least in politics, the Court majority indicated, corporations have a voice, and they have worthy political ideas. Here is the way Justice Anthony M. Kennedy put it (partially quoting from an earlier ruling): “Corporations and other associations, like individuals, contribute to the ‘discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas’ that the First Amendment seeks to foster.”
It does not matter that the right-to-vote scenario is quite implausible. The fact is that the decades-old image of American corporations as a destabilizing and perhaps even corrupting influence in politics has now been thoroughly re-examined by the Supreme Court, and the corporate “person” emerges from the process with — in the eyes of the majority — a burnished image of good citizen. There is a deep chasm of perception, between Thursday’s majority and the dissenters, about the nature of the corporate personality…