Thursday, April 5, 2012

Our Crappy Supreme Court, Day 2 - Unlimited Corporate Money in Politics Edition

In yesterday's post, I gave the backstory as to why I initially started to doubt the usefulness of the Supreme Court in upholding American democracy, and I gave the punchline to this entire series of posts on the Supreme Court: the current Supreme Court routinely makes fundamentally partisan, political decisions and wraps them up in the legacy of the Supreme Court in a way that makes these partisan decisions unchallengeable by anyone - not the President, not Congress, and not even the people of the United States. And that is seriously dangerous - both for the Supreme Court as an American democratic institution, and for the soundness of American democracy itself.

In my next few posts, I'll discuss very recent cases from the Supreme Court's docket that have only made me more skeptical - and in many ways, these more recent cases have eroded my faith and confidence in the Supreme Court far more than the one-off decision in Bush v. Gore.

Today's case:

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

This case rather famously overturned a century of judicial precedent limiting the influence of corporate money in politics, declaring that the government cannot restrict political expenditures by corporations.

As demonstrated by this case, this Supreme Court has essentially decided to give all of the benefits (unfettered free speech [in the form of money], strong property rights, etc.) of personhood to corporations, even though corporations don't face any of the drawbacks of personhood (mortality, the ability to be jailed, etc.).

However, the Founding Fathers probably could not have envisioned corporations as they currently exist - there's no reason to think that they had crystal balls and could see so perspicaciously into the future. Therefore, although I know many people would disagree with me, I don't think the Constitution has a lot to say of the matter of corporate personhood.

Rather, I think that corporate personhood (and the concomitant range of rights we, the people, want to extend to corporations) is a fundamentally political question and should be resolved through a political process, most likely through laws passed by Congress and signed by the President, which later Congresses and Presidents can change if they see fit. I have a hard time seeing the justification for letting the judicial branch of government have the final say over this particular matter, after which no one else gets any more input, unless a later Court decides to reverse this decision.

Instead, it seems quite obvious to me that the rights that we, the people, want to extent to corporations is obviously a political question, not a question involving rights - because corporations have no rights, other than the rights bestowed upon them by the laws passed by Congress. Congress passed laws allowing corporations to exist in the first place, and Congress should have the power to decide which rights corporations enjoy, including rights to which speech and in which contexts.

This Supreme Court decided to side with the powerful and rich against the rest of the citizenry, unleashing huge floods of unlimited corporate money to further twist the American political discourse, lie to voters, and consolidate power.

Through this action, the Supreme Court has deeply damaged American democracy - when the Court should instead seek to protect it. And now, there's nothing we can do about it, except try to pass a constitutional amendment - which will never happen, in this polarized political environment.

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