By a 5-4 vote, the court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.
The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. From the dissenting section:
In the context of election to public office, the distinctionbetween corporate and human speakers is significant.Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests mayconflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.
Let’s contrast this bit of apparently incontrovertible thinking with the the truly inflammatory rhetoric in the first paragraph of the Roberts/Alito concurrence.
The Government urges us in this case to uphold a direct prohibition on political speech. It asks us to embrace a theory of the First Amendment that would allow censor-ship not only of television and radio broadcasts, but of pamphlets, posters, the Internet, and virtually any other medium that corporations and unions might find useful in expressing their views on matters of public concern. Its theory, if accepted, would empower the Government to prohibit newspapers from running editorials or opinion pieces supporting or opposing candidates for office, so long as the newspapers were owned by corporations—as the major ones are. First Amendment rights could be confined to individuals, subverting the vibrant public discourse that is at the foundation of our democracy.
A chilling look at the Supreme Court that the G. W. Bush administration has left us with. *sigh*
On the other hand, at least the media companies are going to get a flood of money comparable to that spent on the Coakley/Brown Senate race — one (ugly) way to add stimulus money to the economy.