Monday, January 18, 2010

Corporate Personhood Challenged by Supreme Court

Reposted from Democracy Unlimited in Humboldt County, CA

On August 1st Democracy Unlimited filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging “corporate personhood,” the illegitimate and undemocratic legal doctrine which allows courts to overturn democratically elected laws that attempt to control corporate harm and abuse.

Democracy Unlimited joined the Program on Corporations Law & Democracy, the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Shays2: The Western Massachusetts Committee on Corporations & Democracy, and the Clements Foundation in making the legal argument. The brief was drafted and filed by attorney Jeff Clements, who represented all five organizations in the matter.

The groups filed the brief in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, urging the Supreme Court not to overturn laws preventing corporations from making political contributions in federal elections. The amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief argues that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as people. As such, democratically enacted regulations of corporations do not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.

“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said Clements. “The organizations that joined to bring these arguments to the Court have worked with others for many years to empower democratic self-government. They remind us that corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations need not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

The Supreme Court is considering overturning federal campaign regulations for corporations, originally enacted in 1907, and may soon overrule previous Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the Constitutionality of legislative restrictions on corporate money in politics.

The case now before the Court began when a tax-exempt non-profit corporation calling itself Citizens United challenged the Constitutionality of a federal ban on expenditures for “electioneering communications” by corporations and labor unions within sixty days of an election. The ban is part of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Under the Act, corporations and labor unions may still contribute to Political Action Committees.

Citizens United argued that the restrictions under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the Constitution as applied to the corporation that sought to distribute an anti-Hillary Clinton movie during the 2008 presidential primaries. A panel of three federal district court judges upheld the regulation of corporate expenditures, and agreed that the Federal Election Commission could enforce the law. The District Court relied on a 2003 Supreme Court case, McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), that had ruled that the corporate expenditure regulation did not violate the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court overrules Austin and McConnell, First Amendment rights claimed by corporations will be significantly expanded, and local, state, and federal governments will be further restricted in the ability to regulate corporations and corporate influence on our democratic processes.

The brief filed by Democracy Unlimited argues that corporations are legal entities created by state or federal law for economic, charitable or other purposes, and were never intended to be included within the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The brief also highlights the fact that the doctrine that corporations are “persons” under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment is doubtful, and an activist federal judiciary should not intervene to prevent elected officials from protecting the integrity of the electoral process.

The Supreme Court will hear further argument in the case in September.

A copy of the amicus brief can be read here:

For further information contact:

Jeff Clements, Clements Law Office LLC, 978-287-4901, jclements (at) clementsllc (dot) com

David Cobb, Democracy Unlimited, 707-269-0984, david (at) duhc (dot) org

1 comment: