January 20th, 2012 will mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC decision which ushered in a new era of “corporate personhood” by finding that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment. While corporate personhood has been part of the American legal system since the Supreme Court ruled on Dartmouth College vs. Woodward 1819 which strengthened the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution and laid the footwork for the current political strength, it became an entirely different animal in the past decade.
The concept of corporate personhood was an issue that the Courts continued to weaken and strengthen appropriately over time until the past decade when a much more conservative version of the nation’s highest court featuring members like Anton Scalia, Clearance Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts took the rights of corporations to new levels with cases such as FEC vs. Wisconsin Right to Life (which weakened the McCain – Feingold Act that banned corporate funding of issue advocacy ads mentioning candidates right before elections) and FEC vs. Citizens United. These rulings affirmed the legal right of corporations to contribute freely to political causes.
The current structure of the Supreme Court, with George W. Bush’s handpicked young conservative ideologues set to have their seat on the bench for decades, makes for a situation where corporate personhood can only be changed by the will of the people and their right to pressure their elected officials to amend the constitution of the United States. Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced a bill last October looking to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.
OCCUPY THE COURTS
Enter Occupy the Courts, a movement born out of the Occupy Movement, with help from civil rights activist Dr. Cornel West, which looks to “Occupy” Federal Courthouse throughout the country. The Call to Action, voiced loudly by the modern patriots “Move to Amend”, creates an end game where the constitution is amended to state that “corporations are not people and money is not free speech.”
A major criticism of the Occupy Movement has been that their goals are perhaps too lofty or vague and that more specific actions need to be taken. “Occupy The Courts” is a very specific action that seeks to educate the public about the role corporations have in their political well-being as well as everyday life and how those corporations can use their “legal rights as American Citizens” to buy off the politicians that will do their bidding in Washington, D.C.
MOVE TO AMEND
Move to Amend has had success by creating a grassroots movement of concerned citizens who have brought their desire for constitutional change to their local city councils, many of whom have passed measures calling for amendment of the constitution. New York City, Los Angeles, Boulder, Missoula, Oakland, Albany, Madison, and South Miami are all cities in which these actions have been taken. The most success has come from the college town of Missoula, Montana where the call for amendment has already seen its influence make its way to the state’s Supreme Court, who ruled to uphold their state’s 100 year old ban on corporate spending in elections. According to the Great Falls Tribune,
“The Citizens United decision dealt with federal laws and elections — like those contests for president and Congress," said Bullock, who is now running for governor. "But the vast majority of elections are held at the state or local level, and this is the first case I am aware of that examines state laws and elections."
The corporation that brought the case and is also fighting accusations that it illegally gathers anonymous donations to fuel political attacks, said the state Supreme Court got it wrong. The group argues that the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, passed as a citizen's ballot initiative, and unconstitutionally blocks political speech by corporations.
"We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a corporation," said American Tradition Partnership executive director Donald Ferguson in a statement. "We are currently reviewing our legal options."
The seriousness of the issue is almost lost on the big money presidential elections and it isn’t until the outcome of Citizens United vs. FEC is viewed at the local election level that it becomes clear that the feared danger of corporations taking over the U.S. government has already begun. The Tea Party’s rise to national prominence was originally viewed as organic, but soon it became clear that the uber-rich of America, such as the Koch Brothers, had used the power of their corporation’s legal rights granted by Citizens United to invest highly in politicians that would do their bidding.
With that money the Koch Brothers bought politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who along with fellow 2010 elected Republican Governors such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Florida’s Rick Scott began a unilateral extremist agenda of stripping the rights of public unions and pushing the “Right-to-Work” agenda that allows states to depower unions by stating that members do not have to contribute dues.
“Right-to-Work” has been wreaking havoc on workers’ rights since its inception in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. 22 states, mostly southern, currently have these laws on the books which basically gives workers the right to work for less. With weaker unions comes more exploitation, which in a time of economic uncertainty such as now, allows huge corporations to come into town and offer low paying jobs with no union protections. “Right-to-Work” has become a national issue in the 2012 campaign as Republican candidates funded by the extreme corporate right via Citizens United have called for a federal right-to-work law.
The overwhelming support from the GOP for a federal right to work law shows the absolute hypocrisy they currently exist in, as the conservatives fighting for the concept of “state’s rights” want to take this historically state level issue and enforce it on an unwilling nation in the name of the elite one percent.
WILLARD “MITT” ROMNEY
The elite’s dream candidate Willard Romney is a major proponent of corporate personhood as his success in the private sector has been based on corporate takeover and exploitation. His stance on corporate personhood couldn’t be clearer, he truly believes that corporations are people and there is no middle ground for him.
Republican Presidential candidate Buddy Roemer (@BuddyRoemer) recently tweeted, “I think Corporations should be forced to release copies of their birth certificates.”, a play on the birther movement, but he represents such a small faction of Republican voters that he cannot manage an invite to a debate. As the struggle begins to amend the constitution, a Mitt Romney Presidency would mean doom for the movement. Current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who voted against Citizens United v. FEC, is 78 and is likely to retire during the next Presidential term. The chances that Romney and his corporate cabinet would allow a judge on the bench that wouldn’t uphold Citizens United are slim to none and much closer to none. The damage done to the American legal system in the past few years by the activist ideologues appointed by George W. Bush shows the importance of keeping a balanced Supreme Court.
In Monday’s South Carolina Tea Party Debate, Romney came out strongly against Citizens United. However he also made reference to wanting to overturn McCain – Feingold. What may have seemed like Romney taking the correct stance on an issue was really just a disguise for the fact that he wants no limitation or regulation on campaign spending and does not excuse his past support for the decision. Here is a look at his quote from the Myrtle Beach debate via The Daily Beast,
“I’ll tell you, there have been some—there have been some attacks on me that have just been outrageous and completely inaccurate and have been shown to be inaccurate. That’s the nature of the process. I hope it ends,” Romney said. He returned to the point later, saying: "We all would like to have super PACs disappear, to tell you the truth … I think this has to change."
Yet, no one has used the current system more than Romney and calling for its end as soon as it makes him look bad is more than a bit hypocritical.
Besides fighting Citizens United, Occupy the Courts will hopefully call out the improper relationships Supreme Court Justices have with legislation. A prime example of this is Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni, who currently heads “Liberty Consulting” a Tea Party lobbying firm that profits from teaching others how to take advantage of the new rules under Citizens United. According to ThinkProgress.org,
Liberty Consulting offers advice for short or long term projects and bringing resources to bear for impact — whether it includes a short term bill-reading project, assistance on congressional oversight efforts or an effective coalition for impact. Additionally, Liberty Consulting offers advice on optimizing political investments for charitable giving in the non-profit world or political causes.
The last part of the business’ description is what should trouble the nation because Thomas cast the 5th and deciding vote in Citizens United v. FEC and now his wife seeks to profit off of it. Thomas’ personal interests in the case show that a boundary has been broken and that big money is a major factor in swaying the Supreme Court, greatly damaging the credibility of the checks and balances system that is at the base of our democracy. Due to the Citizens United outcome nearly $300 million was spent on the 2010 election that would have previously been disallowed.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The corruption of the nation’s courts by activist judges, on both sides of the political system, threatens both the integrity and legitimacy of the American legal system and without law it can be argued that we are without country. Joining movements like Occupy the Courts is an important step for people who feel strongly about this issue, but the most important dedication one can show to this movement is to stay informed. Knowledge is in fact power and by informing yourself on how these laws effect the everyday American citizen you are beginning to take the power back from the corporations who expect you not to care. Once you are informed you can begin to inform others and corporate personhood is a subject that should interest people on both sides of the political spectrum. Below are the links to three good websites which both explain the history of corporate personhood and Occupy the Courts.
This Friday’s Occupy the Courts action is likely to bring the issue from the fringe to the forefront of the 2012 Presidential campaign and is likely to show that Willard Romney, through the perfect hair and suits, is nothing more than a corporate flunky who wants to do to the American legal system what he did to small towns across America. Stand in solidarity with Occupy the Courts to demand that “real” people are not forgotten in the American political process.
Chaz Bolte is a native of Pittsburgh, PA where he attended Slippery Rock University. Currently living in Brooklyn he contributes to WePartyPatriots, Addicting Info,and Secret Party Room. You can follow him on Twitter @ChazBolte.