Citizens United

So reading this and this made me think that some progressives still don’t understand the Citizen’s United decision. Perhaps understandably, many people get hung up on the “corporations are people” argument. Especially when we already see corporations often behaving badly in our world, to call them “people” and to give them rights just seems wrong.

The better way to think of corporations and their rights is to think of corporations as merely a group of people organized for a specific purpose. Suppose you and 5 of your friends wanted to gather together for a worthy cause (to tutor children, perhaps). In order to raise money and in general organize your affairs, any large group of people gathered together for a cause should form into a corporation, for a variety of boring legal reasons that I’ll not go into here. Our society happens to have a legal system that encourages people to organize into corporations to get stuff done-in the past, people may have organized into guilds or councils or any other number of groupings.

But of course, once you gather into a grouping, you shouldn’t have to give up any constitutional rights that you had as an individual. For example, the police shouldn’t be able to raid your tutoring group without a warrant; they shouldn’t be able to seize the assets of the tutoring group without due process. That seems fairly obvious, right? If your constitutional rights only existed when you act as an individual, and not when you’re in a group, then people would be greatly discouraged from cooperating together in groups to achieve a common purpose. Likewise, supposing you and your 5 friends decided to gather together to support, say, Barack Obama. Should your group have lesser free speech rights than each of you do individually? If one of you as an individual wanted to fund a campaign commercial for Obama, you could. But what if you’re poor, and can only afford a campaign commercial if you pool money with your friends. Are you out of luck then? Should only rich individuals have free speech rights?

To put it another way, the New York Times is a corporation. Does it have free speech rights, or should the police be able to shut it down and force each of the reporters to act individually to have any free speech rights?

If you think groups of people should still have constitutional rights, then it seems pretty clear that a corporation is just a group of people organized for a common purpose, and thus it should have first amendment rights just like any person would. Let me know if I’m missing something here.


About irreparabiletempus

God have mercy on me, a sinner.
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3 Responses to Citizens United

  1. David says:

    I just don’t get what the response is to “ok, can the government ban speech of unions”? As a liberal, I find liberal opposition to Citizens United quite frustrating.

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