Press Release: Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United Case “Inevitable”January 21st, 2010
Legal Defense Fund: Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United Case “Inevitable”
Continues Long History of Expansion of Corporate Rights over the Rights
of People, Communities, and Nature
of People, Communities, and Nature
CONTACT: Mari Margil
January 21, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is the only public interest law firm in the U.S. that has worked with municipalities to question whether corporate “rights” can coexist with the democratic rights of communities to local self-government.
Those communities have recognized that corporate rights and privileges are routinely wielded to override democratic decision making and undermine efforts to protect the environment and public health, local economies and local agriculture. Through the adoption of local, binding laws, these communities are pioneering a new structure of law which does not recognize the rights and privileges of corporations.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Decision
Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – giving corporations the ability to spend money directly to influence federal elections under the Constitution’s First Amendment – was inevitable. It represents a logical expansion of corporate constitutional “rights” – which include the rights of persons which have been judicially conferred upon corporations. “Personhood” rights mean that corporations possess First Amendment rights to free speech, along with a litany of other rights that are secured to persons under the federal Bill of Rights.
The expansion of corporate rights and privileges under the law has been deliberate, beginning nearly two hundred years ago with the Dartmouth decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that private corporations have rights that municipal corporations – governments composed of “we the people” – did not.
The expansion of these rights and privileges occurred during the 1800s, throughout the 1900s, until today. For those who think that the way to stem this tide is to find the perfect lawsuit, we say, stop looking. It doesn’t exist, for there is no magic bullet.
Rather, in order to reverse decisions like Citizens United, the whole concept of corporate “rights” must be examined, and how corporations possessing “rights” interferes with the exercise of rights by people, communities, and nature. And, it’s not simply that corporations have “personhood” rights. It goes well beyond that.
Today’s structure of law gives corporations a spectrum of legal and constitutional rights which they routinely wield against people, communities, and nature. Corporations have more rights, for example, than the communities in which they seek to do business. They have rights which they use to lobby Congress, impact elections, to decide for us what we eat, whether mountaintops are blown off or not, whether there are fish in the oceans, and on and on. Coupling their wealth with constitutional and other legal rights guarantees that they write the laws which determine these things, along with defining the debate that leads to the adoption of the new laws.
Thus the context for understanding today’s decision is that we have a minority set of corporate interests, empowered by government, which wield their rights against a majority. It is the history of this nation. Whether with the Abolitionists, the Suffragists, the Civil Rights Movement – all found it necessary to build movements of people to drive rights into law – rights for slaves, rights for women, rights of African Americans – which necessarily meant eliminating rights for a minority such as the slaveholder. In the end, it is our constitutional structure of law that purposefully placed the rights of property and commerce over the rights of people, communities, and nature.
In some ways, the Citizens United ruling is merely part of a predetermined destiny set by a 1700’s constitutional structure which placed greater priority on the rights of property and commerce than on people and nature. Reversing Citizens United means reversing that constitutional legacy.
And today – those who recognize that we do not have democracy when corporations located thousands of miles away are making decisions about our community instead of us, who recognize that we cannot have sustainability so long as corporations are able to decide how clean our air is and our water is, who recognize that we’ll never have true health care reform so long as corporations have greater access to our elected representatives than the people who voted for them – to those people – today’s decision should be understood as just another brick in the wall, another step in a direction that will only continue unless and until a real movement for the rights of people, communities, and nature is built. That is the work we are doing. We hope you will join us.
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