Thursday, January 21, 2010

Anger, Rising...

This is a dang shame.

Generally speaking, I'm all about free speech (hehe, generally "speaking". Get it? (Thank goodness there's no ban on bad puns, huh?)). But that doesn't mean I don't think there should be limits.

If I had just one limit to impose on free speech, I would outlaw cable news channels.

But if I had two, I would limit corporate speech. That corporations (or anything besides individuals) have the right to free speech is a repugnant idea to me. Rights derive from our human nature. They are a function of our humanity and an expression of individualism. Corporations, on the other hand, are legal fictions. They have the privileges and obligations that we choose, through the law, to impose on them. There is no natural right of corporations, no fundamental privilege to which they are entitled. And yet, the Supreme Court, long ago, in a crazy footnote, extended corporations individual rights, and today they expanded the free speech rights of corporations (against long trends towards limiting corporate speech).

This is worrisome. Corporations are now allowed to spend as much money as they want in elections. They already buy politicians, now they can spend even more to make sure the ones they've bought are the ones who get elected. It's a shame. And it makes me think that it's really time for a big overhaul. I honestly believe that a Constitutional Amendment limiting corporations might be called for.

It's a disappointing day. And how about this... it's just one day off from another very disappointing day in court history.

Come on, come on
Listen to the money talk


AGJ said...

You scare me...

I understand that big money can influence politics... Soros and the Unions have been doing it since 2004 with little competition. McCain-Feingold came into law in 2002; at the height of the Republican stronghold. Next election - Both house and senate were lost to the Democrats.

I understand that there were many reasons - but allowing Soros, AFSCME, SEIU, ACORN, AFL-CIO, AFT-NEA, and others to have full reign - was a very large part.

You state that you would limit corps and (anything besides individuals), what about organizations? Or Political Movements? Do these entities have the same rights as individuals?

From what I understand, the Supreme Court was challenged to decide if disallowing corporate donations to influence elections in a predetermined time frame was unconstitutional as written in the bill.

I believe not with you that the bill should overturn the bill; however, I do agree that free speech is an individual right protected by the constitution.

I am not sure that the Supreme Court had the legal measures in its grasp to not allow all organizations to contribute to such endeavors - if it did, then they should have gone that route.

What scares me about your post is that you are willing to ban cable news channels. How is this constitutional?

Is it that you do not like the programming? The banter? The 24-hour news cycle? The fact that people such as Tiger Woods and the Octo-Mom get such coverage? Or that Fox can command an audience larger than the Prime-Time Networks?

Would you go as far as limiting Talk Radio? Now that Air America is off the air due to financial difficulties (because they had no audience), we are really left with a handful of national networks that have a conservative bent. Should we also limit radio so that we make it "fair" for both sides?

You call for an Amendment to limit Corporations from contributing... fine. Then let it read "all organizations". Do you agree? If not, then again dear cousin, we are at odds.

I will leave you with this last thought:
Brees on the ground, Brees on the ground; Who-Dats looking like fools with Brees on the ground.


Matthew B. Novak said...

The cable news thing was a joke... It certainly wouldn't be constitutional to get rid of those.

As for non-corporate groups, like unions, yeah, I'd limit those too. (Though I think unions are generally incorporated, right?). There'll probably be some tough line-drawing somewhere, but I'm willing to say that corporations and large-scale groups fall on the side of the line we don't want to have absolute free speech rights.

Also, just so you know, the Supreme Court opted to rule much more broadly than the specific question in front of them, essentially going out of their way to make sure corporations had expanded speech rights.

AGJ said...

WTF? Really? No Skol Vikes? You are lost to me.

Jeff said...

Unsurprisingly, I disagree with you. I agree that there are a lot of good reasons for restricting corporate speech, but the First Amendment just doesn't allow us to do that. You say this:

But that doesn't mean I don't think there should be limits.

The Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law...

"No law" and "there should be limits" are contradictory.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jeff -

First off, according the Supreme Court, the Constitution doesn't mean no law. Since some regulations are permitted (for example, obscenity, or the speech rights of students in school are regulated.). The long history of the court has revealed that there are limits to free speech. I disagree with many of the limits they've placed, since I'd actually side with an expansive reading of the amendement. And on this we agree.

But second, and most important, the relevant question here isn't whether we should have an expansive right or not, it's whether that right should attach to non-persons. I don't think corporations can have rights and I don't think there's any basis for embracing them as persons. Corporations are a legal fiction that exist for the purpose of making a profit. They have a completely different nature than humans, and, since rights derrive from human nature, it follows that corporations would cannot have those rights. That's the question. If you're going to defend this expansive reading you need to have a rationale for treating corporations like people.

Jeff said...

First off, according the Supreme Court, the Constitution doesn't mean no law. Since some regulations are permitted (for example, obscenity, or the speech rights of students in school are regulated.).

Also unsurprisingly, I disagree with those restrictions. Miller v. California and Morse v. Frederick were both horrible decisions IMHO - in fact, on my blog I compare Citizens United to Morse and make fun of the craven side-switching going on there.

And while I'm sure you disagree, corporate personhood hasn't been seriously legally challenged since Santa Clara 120+ years ago.

I have problems with corporate personhood too (especially as regards the 14th Amendment), but I'm also of the opinion that corporations are made up of people. Denying corporations free speech rights would be to say that people lack collectively a right which they reserve individually, which makes no sense especially in light of the free assembly clause of the First Amendment.

Though one bizarre aspect of this decision remains. In the wake of Citizens United, people retain the unlimited right to donate to campaigns collectively (as part of a corporation or union) but, thanks to restrictions on individual donations, lack that right individually. Wouldn't this case logically have to eliminate those limits as well?

Matthew B. Novak said...

Jeff -

Yeah, I read your post. I liked your observation on the side-switching. Well put.

As for your point here. You write, "Denying corporations free speech rights would be to say that people lack collectively a right which they reserve individually, which makes no sense especially in light of the free assembly clause of the First Amendment."

I disagree. First off, denying corporations speech rights doesn't deny people the right to collectively speak. There are all sorts of other forms of collectives beyond corporations. Corporations are not the natural product of people grouping together. In fact, they're a very unnatural product - they require special laws crafted to give them various protections and responsibilities. Usually when people get together it's not a corporation. So I think your fear about this limit is misplaced... we don't eliminate collective speech when we limit corporate speech.

Second, I think there's a big difference between collective speech and individual speech, and I think the latter is far more important. Collective speech is more likely to be coercive and (especially in the case of corporations) more likely to be motivated by profit than public interest. (See, for example, the corporations that lobby for regulations in their industry that put up barriers to competitors.)

What's more, when people form into a collective they don't lose their individual speech rights. They can always exercise their individual rights. Case in point: a group urges all of their members to contact Congress individually. In essence, when you limit collective speech the only thing you're really limiting is the ability to pool money to buy advertising. Because there is nothing prohibiting individuals from speaking up on their own.

The nature of a collective is different from the nature of an individual. Especially a collective in corporate form. Because they are so different it makes sense that their rights would differ as well. You say it makes no sense to say that people lack collectively a right they reserve individually. I say it makes perfect sense, given the different nature of the collective and the individual. We ought to protect individual free speech with all we have, and we ought to be wary of expanding individual rights to entities that aren't individuals.

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