Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito caused a bit of a stir at the State of the Union last month when he was seen uttering “not true” in response to this part of the President’s speech:
“With all due deference to the separation of powers, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
Leftists went bonkers over Alito. “Of course, they’d open the floodgates” they would scream. “Why don’t these conservative judges understand that?!”
As I contended to some on the left in January, Alito was saying “not true” to Obama’s statement that the SC “reversed a century of law”. The AP takes time to confirm that to be the case:
At the September argument, Alito suggested to attorney Seth Waxman that 20 years was the appropriate time frame, encompassing two high court decisions that upheld limits on corporate spending in campaigns.
“Mr. Waxman, all of this talk about 100 years and 50 years is perplexing,” Alito said then. “It sounds like the sort of sound bites that you hear on TV. The fact of the matter is that the only cases that are being, that may possibly be reconsidered, are McConnell and Austin. And they don’t go back 50 years, and they don’t go back 100 years.”
In the end, the court left untouched a 1907 law that bans contributions by corporations to candidates. But in overruling those two decisions, the court did strike down limits on corporations in a law that had been in place since 1947.
Finally, and also in response to the case itself, I wanted to link to a piece I found particularly interesting in response to the frustration on the left that the case determined corporations were deemed fit for the same free speech laws as individuals.
It’s true, of course, that corporations “are not human beings.” But their owners (the stockholders) and employees are. Human beings organized as corporations shouldn’t have fewer constitutional rights than those organized as sole proprietors, partnerships, and so on. In this context, it’s important to emphasize that most media organizations and political activist groups also use the corporate form. As Eugene points out, most liberals accept the idea that organizational form is irrelevant when it comes to media corporations, which were exempt from the restrictions on other corporate speech struck down by the Court today. The Supreme Court (including its most liberal justices) has repeatedly recognized that media corporations have First Amendment rights just as broad as those extended to media owned by individuals. Yet the “corporations aren’t people” argument applies just as readily to media corporations as to others. After all, newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations “are not human beings” and they too “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” We readily reject this reasoning in the case of media corporations because we recognize that even though the corporations in question are not people, their owners and employees are. The same point applies to other corporations.
Interesting stuff. And I’m glad it’s left to people much smarter than me.