Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rights for Corporations

The Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of McCain Feingold has been in the news recently, and a great number of liberals are angry at the ruling. Corporations, they say, do not have rights in the same way that individuals do. Therefore, the law was constitutional.

The Deputy Headmistress has an excellent blog post about this (as usual). She quotes from Glen Greenwald, who says,

Most commenters (though not all) grounded their opposition to the Supreme Court's ruling in two rather absolute principles: (1) corporations are not "persons" and thus have no First Amendment/free speech rights and/or (2) money is not speech, and therefore restrictions on how money is spent cannot violate the First Amendment's free speech clause. What makes those arguments so bizarre is that none of the 9 Justices -- including the 4 dissenting Justices -- argued either of those propositions or believe them. To the contrary, all 9 Justices -- including the 4 in dissent -- agreed that corporations do have First Amendment rights and that restricting how money can be spent in pursuit of political advocacy does trigger First Amendment protections.
But beyond the opinion of the nine Justices, there is a further problem to that sort of logic:
Do you believe the FBI has the right to enter and search the offices of the ACLU without probable cause or warrants, and seize whatever they want?

Do they have the right to do that to the offices of labor unions?

How about your local business on the corner which is incorporated?

The only thing stopping them from doing this is the Fourth Amendment. If you believe that corporations have no constitutional rights because they're not persons, what possible objections could you voice if Congress empowered the FBI to do these things?

Can they seize the property (the buildings and cars and bank accounts) of those entities without due process or just compensation? If you believe that corporations have no Constitutional rights, what possible constitutional objections could you have to such laws and actions?

And, of course, as JDavidB states so well in the comments at the Common Room:
One of the fundamental aspects of rights is the right of delegation, the right to employ an agent for the exercise of your rights. For example, you have the right to free speech, and you therefore have the right to hire a printer to print what you want to say. You have the right to self-defense, and you therefore have the right to hire a private security guard. In both cases, you are delegating your right to someone else to exercise it on your behalf.

If we cannot delegate the exercise of our rights to an agency, then we have no authority to delegate them to a government, and therefore government would have no legitimate authority at all.

"to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" -- the Declaration of Independence, and I agree

A government is a corporation.

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  • Alan

    Great points.

    What gives newspapers (corporations) the right to print critical editorials? What gives radio stations (also corporations) the right to broadcast opinion? It's the first amendment.

    What would be the first thing a totalitarian government would do in order to cement their power? They would shut down opposition in the media.

    The first amendment is a check on the power of government. Our government is huge and powerful. A few individuals have little chance to change the direction of government by themselves. When people band together (for example, as corporations) they have a much better chance to influence government. We are very fortunate that corporations have freedom of speecch.