A month ago, I wrote about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Absolutists believe campaign finance reform is in violation of the First Amendment — corporations should have the same right to free speech enjoyed by individuals. They argue there's no evidence that overturning campaign finance reform will result in an influx of corporate wealth and influence into the political arena.
Riiight. Here's how corporations are already using the First Amendment: three of the nation's top credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch, have hired big-time constitutional lawyers to argue that they can't be held responsible or sued for giving stellar ratings to crappy, high-risk bonds that later default, robbing us of our retirement savings.
Why? Because they're protected by free speech.
According to a Huffington Post Investigative Fund examination of court filings,
"...congressional testimony and Securities and Exchange Commission documents illustrates how the companies have repeatedly invoked that right to free speech to dodge government regulation and court action. The raters have never lost a courtroom battle to a disgruntled investor, not even in the Enron scandal. Enron enjoyed high grades on its bonds just four days before it filed for bankruptcy in 2001." Educate me, Mr. Constitutional-lawyer-in-the-pocket-of-big-business, because I don't see how this is different from a doctor saying that, in his opinion, the grapefruit-sized tumor on the CAT scan is Aunt Bessie's leftover fruit salad. Surely he can't be held accountable for his incompetence, because his opinion was an expression of free speech.
In Corporate free speech? Since when? (Boston Globe), Jim Sleeper points out that:
"A republic periodically has to save capitalism from itself. Corporations are creations of the republic, not its equals or superiors. We citizens charter them, protect them legally, subsidize them, and even bail them out - and punish them when, as with Pfizer Chemical, their profit-maximizing violates drug-safety rules." Furthermore, "As inanimate entities, (corporations) are incapable of what the political philosopher Michael Sandel calls 'a willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the sake of the common good, and the ability to deliberate well about common purposes and ends.'" The lowdown? Don't let fearmongers fool you into believing you'll be stripped of your First Amendment rights (and Second Amendment, and so on) and America will crumble if we don't grant corporations freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech has never been healthier — even the recently passed hate-crimes bill (Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act), which expands federal hate-crimes statutes to include sexual orientation and gender identity, won't, as conservatives feared, "criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the crosshairs."
So go on, say what you want, even if it's hateful. So long as it doesn't incite acts of violence and lawlessness, you're still covered by the First Amendment.
©2009 Tammy Yee