There were many in the evangelical world of my youth (read: James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, et. al.) who decried the ‘liberal courts’ for overstepping their bounds by using the court as means of legislating, rather than limiting their responsibilities to ‘upholding the constitution according intent of its framers’. They viewed Roe v Wade as an example of, not merely ruling on a case, but of using a case to create and impose a new ethos that was far beyond the scope of the case at hand. How dare those liberals do that! If only conservatives ruled the court things would be different, right?
Apparently not. The court used the case of “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission” as a means for overturning a century of campaign finance laws, ushering in an era whereby corporations (both American, and foreign ones with US subsidiaries) are granted the same freedom of speech rights as individual Americans. The McCain/Feingold law that sought to limit the degree to which companies could influence elections (and thereby, influence elected officials) was overturned with this ruling.
So, as Stephen Colbert mockingly said last night: “Now my bank, “Morgan Stanley” has the same rights to contribute their voice to policy making in Washington as my barber, “Stanley Morgan”. Each one can donates hundreds of millions to campaigns and then, by virtue of their generosity, have access to, and influence over, the policy makers. It’s a fair battle. And may the best man win.”
This is precisely why there’s so much anger and cynicism towards American politics. Apparently the religious right, and political conservatives weren’t really angry about the Supreme Court’s over-reach in the 70’s, but angry that the over-reach didn’t favor their ideology. As Dobson himself has written: “tyranny by judicial fiat is destructive to our democratic institutions.” Now that the recent court and ruling is in line with their goals, the right has fallen strangely silent about “the intent of the framers and the tyranny of judicial fiat”. I guess it all depends on the ruling.
When the rhetoric dies down over this ruling, the thing that will have changed is this: corporations can buy as much time to exercise ‘free speech’ and thus influence the vote, as you and I can. This isn’t good news for salmon or eagles, people who use banks and have loans, water tables, topsoil, small farmers around the world, or the artic wildlife refuge.
But it’s good news for multi-national corporations because now, when we appeal to our constitutional rights by declaring, ‘we the people’, they can spend 150 million dollars crying back: “I’m a person too!”