An article in yesterday’s Washington Post reveals that the roots of public dissatisfaction with the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission run deep. As the paper’s own polling reveals,
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent “strongly” opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.
The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).
The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court’s decision.
The Roberts Court unfortunately reaffirmed that corporations have the same basic freedoms and rights to free speech as do individuals. The sordid history of corporate personhood began in the late Nineteenth Century and has been a contentious, divisive issue ever since. With the rise of corporations and multinational conglomerates, corporate personhood has never been far from the public consciousness. A series of rulings over time have revealed the depths of the debate.
Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas both rendered opinions attacking the doctrine of corporate personhood. Justice Black, in a dissenting opinion, concluded,
If the people of this nation wish to deprive the states of their sovereign rights to determine what is a fair and just tax upon corporations doing a purely local business within their own state boundaries, there is a way provided by the Constitution to accomplish this purpose. That way does not lie along the course of judicial amendment to that fundamental charter. An amendment having that purpose could be submitted by Congress as provided by the Constitution. I do not believe that the Fourteenth Amendment had that purpose, nor that the people believed it had that purpose, nor that it should be construed as having that purpose.
(Hugo Black, dissenting, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson (303 U.S. 77, 1938)
It remains to be seen whether this bill will be signed into law, or, assuming it is, what its greater impact will be. The recent ruling has just now taken effect and no one at this point is certain what liberties corporations might take or intend on taking in this year’s election cycle. Furthermore, the Obama Administration and the Roberts Court have not yet taken highly antagonistic positions with each other the same way FDR did with the Hughes Court back in the 1930’s. However, it must be noted that FDR’s New Deal lead to the enactment of a variety of reforms and Obama has only managed a paltry sum in comparison. A majority desperate to minimize its losses would do well to start here.