Somehow, Justices Kennedy, Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Scalia came to the conclusion that corporations and unions have the same First Amendment rights as individuals, which means that corporations and unions are free to spend unlimited amounts of money independently in elections. How corporations and unions can be individuals is sort of bemusing since, as Justice Stevens noted, and I paraphrase: “Uh … you know that corporations can’t vote or run for office, right?”
Neither the President nor Members of Congress held back in their responses:
President Obama: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”
John McCain (R-Ariz.): “I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions. However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.”
Russ Feingold (D-Wis.): “The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”
As one of my friends noted, this is one of the most vigorous displays of bipartisanship we’ve seen in a while! Already, Democrats are planning to push a bill to limit the fallout from what is, in my opinion, one of the most counterintuitive Supreme Court decisions in recent history (and the NY Times doesn’t disagree)–I’m hoping this’ll be a bipartisan effort too.
And by the way, way to go, Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer!
If you’re interested, you can read the entire court opinion here.
And, perhaps more importantly, you can take action on this. Organizing for America has a site where you can let your Member of Congress know that you care about fair elections. And the Campaign to Legalize Democracy has issued a petition in response to the ruling. Signatories so far include Brian McLaren, Bill Moyer, Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Jim Hightower, Tom Hayden and Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
- Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
- Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
- Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.