A Response To The Citizen’s United Decision

The principles used in the Citizen’s decision – Corporations as Persons, Money as Speech, Precedent as Scripture - strike the ordinary citizens as madness

By Merrill Ring

I’m not a lawyer or legal scholar.  I think my reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case is fairly typical of ordinary intelligent folk.  Three matters have struck me and others, all leading to a lessening of the respect for the Court.

1.  The idea that some members of the Supreme Court have and are treating Corporations as Persons strikes intelligent outsiders as plainly ludicrous.  That comes out in the sign in the photo published in the vicinity of this essay.  Another favorite of mine:  one of the Latino geezers in the comic strip La Cucaracha declares that if corporations are persons he sure would like to date Victoria’s Secret.   We hear the Supremes talking of Corporations as Persons and we immediately think of what could happen to real persons – and that no corporation could possibly be subject to such things (being executed, having a hot date with, serving in the military, voting, being mayor or dog catcher, having a doctor’s appointment, snoring….)

Now it may be that in certain respects corporations resemble persons – but so does my dog (and perhaps more so than a corporation.)  But the Supremes have not held that as a constitutional matter, dogs are persons.  So why have they taken it as a matter of legal right that corporations should be treated in American law as persons?  We outsiders think that no matter what the resemblance in this or that respect of a corporation to a person there is nothing that could reasonably lead an intelligent and unbiased person to declare them to be people with the full set of rights and responsibilities of an American person.  The conclusion must be that the Supremes’ education and intelligence have been overwhelmed by some form of prejudice.

2.  The decision involves calling and treating Money as Speech:  and as we are prohibited from restricting speech in this country so we are prohibited from restraining the use of money in speaking (politically).  Now it is true, as we all know, that money talks.  But that is precisely what runs counter to democratic ideals which have an assumption of basic political equality.  If we allow Money to be Speech, as the Court does, we undermine our democratic ideals.  For if you have $1000 and I have $1, then you have the legal right to be 999 times more important in the political process than I am.  It is not that you are superior to me in intelligence, education, concern, knowledge, wisdom and therefore you should be listened to more than me.  It is just that you have a lot more money than me and that can be freely used to push your political views without regard to the important distinctions between people that make one person’s views better than another’s.

Money is not Speech – it is a medium of exchange that enables persons to do or purchase things they desire.  When what is done or purchased is a political matter that is a point of concern for those addicted to democracy, a legitimate reason for legal restraints on the use of money to affect political decisions.  It is shocking to ordinary people that persons as intelligent and as educated as the Justices of the Supreme Court declare that money should freely talk and talk extremely loudly in our democracy, in effect rendering it formally a plutocracy.

3.   If it is objected that the Citizen’s United decision is merely the latest in a line of decisions treating Corporations as Persons and treating Money as Speech and that hence precedent means that the court is correct in reaching the conclusion that it did in the recent case, we outsiders can only think that that is a mad view of the role of precedent in normal human life and in legal decisions (in so far as we understand the legal status of precedent.)  Surely those who made the original decision were people and so subject to error.  To argue that the Court must have come to the conclusion that it did in Citizen’s because it has been written in stone that Corporations are Persons and that Money is Speech strikes us as madness.  The lemming who leaps because all those who preceded him/her have done so has should not be the principle of human life and of legal decisions.  Try this principle: Think!  Emerson said that consistency was the virtue of small minds:  to encourage the above kind of respect to precedent reveals nothing but a small (or lemming) mind.  The poem goes ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’  The same goes when we blindly follow the mistakes others have made in pursuit of nothing other than consistency.