Corporations Do Have Rights

Geoff Gilson's picture
I’m not turning into Karl Rove. Honest. But I do not understand why progressive writers I otherwise deeply respect, like #BobGeary of #TheIndependent (‘Supreme Court rulings reinforce workplace discrimination'), have such an obsession against corporate America.

To be honest, I sense it has nothing to do with constitution, law or rights, and an awful lot to do with the fact that these folks do not like Republicans. And most large corporations are run by Republicans.

Look. I don’t much care for Republicans, either. But that does not mean that they do not have rights. And it does not mean that corporations do not have rights, too.

And I’m not talking about corporate personhood. Frankly, I have never understood the arguments trying to pretend that a corporation is a person. Of course, it isn’t. But a corporation still has rights. Because the primary Constitutional Amendment in question guarantees rights generically, not just to people.

Take a moment actually to read the text of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Leaving aside the point about ‘Congress’ (various rulings have determined that the Amendment now applies to state legislation also), the prohibition on laws interfering with the free exercise of religion and speech does not restrict itself to individuals.

Indeed, we could have a whole separate discussion about the language later on which defines the right of people peaceably to assemble. Clearly, assemblies of people are recognized as having rights, especially when they exist to redress grievances.

Now. Progressive writers says corporations do not have the right to free speech. I say that they do. Regardless of how you define them. Because the First Amendment says so.

You might argue that a corporation cannot speak. Of course it can. It is merely a peaceable assembly of people. It makes decisions. It reports them. It issues press statements. I don’t ‘speak’ in a newspaper. Someone writes down my words.

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a political view. Of course it can. What do you think the #DemocraticParty is? Or the #NAACP? Or my very favorite grocery co-op, #WeaverStreetMarket?

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a religious view. Of course it can. What do you think the #CatholicChurch is?

Progressive writers say that political donations should be regulated. I agree. I think political spending in the US is an obscenity. But it can’t be regulated by statute. Because the First Amendment prohibits legislation interfering with political donations.

Why? Because I take the view that, in this day and age, a political donation is an expression of free speech.

Let’s deal with the low-hanging fruit first. If you have a physical disability, if you have an uncontrollable fear of public expression, can it be said that you truly have the right to speak freely?

What if the only means of expressing a political opinion is for you to donate to a cause which speaks on your behalf? Is legislation interfering with or regulating that donation not an interference with your right to free speech?

If it is, then you can’t distinguish between disabled and able-bodied. That would be discrimination. And that means any political donation is an expression of free speech.

The next point is a tad more obtuse, but I think still good. It’s the acorn in the forest argument. Back in the days which Antonin Scalia likes to inhabit, you made your speech from the back of a haywain. It didn’t require, and very often did not receive, broadcast.

In this day and age, you only truly ‘speak’ with any effect if your message is disseminated in some fashion. Which requires platform and money. If folks choose to use that platform to get their speech across, isn’t regulation of the money required for that platform an interference prohibited under the First Amendment?

If you don’t like the corporations which hold political views, religious views and make political donations you don’t like, then don’t work for them, don’t buy their products.

If they are publicly-owned corporations, with Boards of Directors and Annual Meetings, then turn up to the Meetings, vote for the Board, or even stand yourself. I do this the whole time with Weaver Street Market. As. Er. Some of you may have noticed.

But please, can we stop with this fallacious, time-consuming and sterile obsession that corporations do not have rights.? They do. If you don’t like it, step around them.

And Bob. #ThomasJefferson would not be writing dissents on the current #SupremeCourt, in my opinion. Jefferson was a rich landowner, who did not like paying taxes and who drafted a #DeclarationOfIndependence which did not ban slavery. Thomas Jefferson, at best, would today be Anthony M. Kennedy.

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Total votes: 9

3 Comments

James Barrett's picture

thanks Geoff

Not sure I *like* your conclusions, but you make the most coherent case for these recent decisions I've seen.  You seem to cover it well as a matter of the Constitution -- my objection is whether these things are actually good public policy.  I will point out in defense of my fellow William and Mary grad, Mr Jefferson, that he was against monopolies and for estate taxes (for related reasons of unequal playing field).   Hard to picture him siding with Kennedy given the current balance of power in Corporate America.  

Geoff Gilson's picture

Coherence

My pleasure, James. Sort of.I'm not sure that very much of what is coming out of the Supreme Court at the moment is coherent or good public policy. But it is legal. And it is the result of some 30 years of folks electing the 'wrong' people to the Presidency, the Senate and the Congress.The answer (as is my common refrain) is not to whine in front of a camera. But to dig in, and try to elect the best of what is on offer.I still say the simplest solution to where we are right now is to elect Democrats as President for the next eight years, and then we'd be certain to be given the opportunity to replace at least one of the conservative Justices.Any other proposed remedy is still going to come up against a conservative Supreme Court.

James Barrett's picture

Reform

There's always the FDR method of expanding membership to counteract justices over 70.  Hard to get through today's Congress, but quicker than waiting for them to retire/die.