Yesterday the SCOTUS ruled, in Citizens United v. FEC, that Congress should not have limited the freedom of political speech as they did with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The 5-to-4 decision was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said that allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace would corrupt democracy...
President Obama jumped at the decision to rail against the influence of big corporations that this would unleash
President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
We can talk about free speech vs. the detrimental influence of large independent expenditures by unions and corporations, if you like. But Drew M. handles the discussion nicely over at Ace of Spades today, and Justice Kennedy's majority opinion (pdf) is worthy as well. From the former:
Sure the Constitution protects ‘the press’ but as bloggers of today and pamphleteers of the founding era know, you don’t need to be a corporation to be ‘the press’. Clearly corporate media isn’t a necessary condition of ‘the press’ so why should media corporations be afforded special protections for 1st Amendment activities others aren’t?
There's also the inconvenient fact that corporations are nothing more than an aggregation of individuals (investors, workers, managers, etc). Each of these people have first amendment speech rights. Why exactly should those rights be destroyed simply because they are exercising them collectively instead of individually? (hint: they shouldn't)
There’s simply no merit to the left’s critique and they won’t like where it leads. The beauty of being a lefty is that every case is different and the argument you use one day, isn’t applicable to similar circumstances the next day if it doesn’t help you.
From the latter (pp 3-4):
Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. The Government may also commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead to this conclusion.
Read that once more, and think about it. Do you really want the government deciding which entities can have their voices heard, and which cannot?
Besides which, there is a current example of a large and influential block of individuals exercising political speech through their donations that must be very familiar to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, and which was completely unaffected by the restrictions of McCain-Feingold in shaping policy. This group of individuals was considered at every turn by those crafting the health care legislation. Their influence likely cost Mr. Obama the chance to ever have "reform." Their influence was so broad and so deep that the Senate bill that passed catered to their whim. The provisions that catered to them was the reason why most physicians were against the bill. It's a large reason why it was so difficult to manage the costs of reform.
I think we know that I'm referring to the trial lawyers, the tort bar. The unwillingness to cross that bridge is the reason that Mr. Obama and the congressional Democrats can't crow about passing a reform bill, because enough physicians would likelly have supported any bill that had real tort reform. But so scared were Democrats of losing the support of the deep pockets that finance their campaigns that Howard Dean famously admitted that they couldn't and wouldn't be touched.
So whine all you want about the "evil" of corporations' free speech rights under this ruling. Then tell me that it's okay that some pigs are more equal than others.