So I hear that Citizens United is going back up before the SCOTUS. That should be interesting.
In case you didn’t read it the first time, here’s the final score (that’s what it’s called, right?):
Now, Citizens United is, like most Supreme Court issues, REALLY COMPLICATED.
And like most people who talk about legal issues, I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO LAW SCHOOL.
I’m not even sure if it’s called a ‘legal degree’ or a ‘legalness doctorate’ or a ‘legalitarianism major’ or an ‘outstanding legality badge.’ Does law school have laws? If two law schools join up, are their respective founders law-school in-laws? Do the law-school in-laws have to obey the law school laws? THIS IS ALL SO CONFUSING.
You know what else is confusing? CITIZENS UNITED V.AUSTIN. So I’m going to PARAPHRASE the long and boring legal document. And I’m going to try my damndest to do it correctly, but please, don’t take ANYTHING I say as word of god. Especially not Thor, because the only word he really says repeatedly is “MJIIIIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLNIRRRRRRRRRRRRR.”
I totally think he could take out any member of the Avengers in a fight. Except maybe Iron Man. Tony could probably design some kind of arc reactor/dimensional portal and hurl him into the endless Void between worlds, where ninjas hide and crab people build their sprawling planet-cities. And, to be fair, the Hulk is more or less unkillable. I mean, even Wolverine couldn’t nail him. And of course Deadpool beats Wolverine, obviously. So wouldn’t that mean Deadpool could take out Thor? Assuming he didn’t just go all fangirl again and try and get an autograph.
…But I digress.
SO CITIZENS UNITED. I’m going to run through it really fast and then be EXTREMELY JUDGEMENTAL of the court’s decision, because reasons.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a nonprofit group called Citizens United generated a ‘documentary’ about Hillary Clinton that was basically a massive disincentive to anyone planning to vote for her, a film that is, according to the actual document, “a feature-length negative advertisement that urges viewers to vote against Senator Clinton for President.” Let me point out right here that Citizens United is a nonprofit group that defines itself, among other things, as promoting a ‘strong family’ and a ‘pro-life’ stance.
We’ll deal with you later.
ANYWAY. They then attempted to put this film on-demand, available for free streaming, and were blocked by a law by which “corporations and unions are barred from using their general treasury funds for express advocacy or electioneering communications.”
So, preemptively, Citizens United went to court. And won some points. For example, they pointed out that people have to choose to see their “feature-length negative advertisement,” as opposed to televised ads that attack people in their homes. They have to take, as it was described, “a series of affirmative steps,” one of which is listed as “subscribing to cable,” because you subscribe to cable solely to watch Iron Man 3 when it comes on demand three years later.
The majority opinion declared that “substantial questions would arise if courts were to begin saying what means of speech should be preferred or disfavored.” The situation, they said, demanded a broad, sweeping declaration—no ad hoc case-by-case law here. The majority wanted to deal with the continued, troubling allegations on the part of Citizens United that this law was stifling their freedom of speech, both as a single entity and as a group of individuals.
A portion of the law in question provides for PACs as a means for corporations to make their voices known. The SCOTUS majority compared this to a disincentive—citing the fact that PACs are expensive and difficult to maintain, irritating to set up, and time-consuming as a whole. The obvious comparison is to a personal level—if you were only allowed to weigh your votes into an election every time you bought a microwave, would you spend this massive amount of money or just pipe down? Moreover, viewed in this light, the law that Citizens United was fighting (Or the portion of that law referred to as Section 441b) took on a new and sinister meaning:
“If §441b applied to individuals, no one would believe that it is merely a time, place, or manner restriction on speech. Its purpose and effect are to silence entities whose voices the Government deems to be suspect.”
And the majority goes further:
“We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead us to this conclusion.”
IN A SINGLE SENTENCE, the majority opinion (I have no idea why they went on for so long instead of just putting this sentence and a metric ****ton of citations):
“The Court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations.”
Does this seem normal? Well-reasoned? Let me sum up.
An individual has the right to spend their money in support of whatever political message they choose. The government cannot hinder them, nor say that one way of spending their money is better than another (so long as it is otherwise legal). A corporation is protected by these rules, as well as a person, and has the right to spend their money in any direction they choose—to do otherwise would be to risk the sanctity and function of the First Amendment itself.
You should read the dissenting opinions. Stevens’ is hilarious. And they also point out the massive, glaring petitio principii fallacy, the question that is begged by the majority opinion. The dissenting opinion puts it best:
“The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its “identity” as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law.”
In a distinctly dry tone of disbelief, the dissenting opinion then goes on to helpfully highlight this fact for the slower members of the audience:
“In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.”
GIVE THE MAN A PRIZE
In a rather prophetic tone, the dissenting opinion tells us that “the Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”
WHAT? PSH. Ridiculous.
Now, with a loud crack of legal knuckles that would make any clerk run and hide behind his stack of amicus curiae briefs, the dissenting opinion tackles some of the major issues. As it is so charmingly put: “Our colleagues’ suggestion that “we are asked to reconsiderAustin and, in effect, McConnell,”…would be more accurate if rephrased to state that “we have asked ourselves” to reconsider those cases.”
Furthermore, Citizens United brought up a challenge to an earlier section of the act that the SCOTUS majority decided to nuke—and then withdrew it. This earlier section, §203, imposes regulation upon the electoral spending of corporations. Blah blah blah. Basically, it tells companies where and when they can spend their money to influence an election. But §203 was never brought out by the defense—by Citizens United. They mentioned it initially in a lower court—and then withdrew the statement.
In “exceptional cases,” the Supreme Court will examine all sides of an issue and any questions that might be raised or have ever been raised by the ins and outs of the case. To quote again:
“The appellant in this case did not so much as assert an exceptional circumstance, and one searches the majority opinion in vain for the mention of any. That is unsurprising, for none exists. Setting the case for reargument was a constructive step, but it did not cure this fundamental problem. Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
I just like this quote, so I’ll add it in clips.
“The Court now negates Congress’ efforts without a shred of evidence on how §203 or its state-law counterparts have been affecting any entity other than Citizens United.
Faced with this gaping empirical hole, the majority throws up its hands. Were we to confine our inquiry to Citizens United’s as-applied challenge, it protests, we would commence an “extended” process of “draw[ing], and then redraw[ing], constitutional lines based on the particular media or technology used to disseminate political speech from a particular speaker.” While tacitly acknowledging that some applications of §203 might be found constitutional, the majority thus posits a future in which novel First Amendment standards must be devised on an ad hoc basis, and then leaps from this unfounded prediction to the unfounded conclusion that such complexity counsels the abandonment of all normal restraint…. The fact that a Court can hypothesize situations in which a statute might, at some point down the line, pose some unforeseen as-applied problems, does not come close to meeting the standard for a facial challenge.”
The argument posed in that long block of text: There is no evidence that the segment upon which the majority built their case was even the slightest bit relevant to the case, NOR that it was in the slightest bit unconstitutional. The way this decision was structured rests soundly upon a pair of massive assumptions:
First, that corporations are people. Now (you might want to sit down): They’re not. Sorry to burst your bubble there.
Now, if you could be troubled to oblige us, Mr. Potter, read this quote in the voice of Severus Snape.
“Unlike our colleagues, [the Framers of the Constitution] had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.”
SECOND ASSUMPTION (which is also good in Snape’s voice):
“In short, the Court dramatically overstates its critique of identity-based distinctions, without ever explaining why corporate identity demands the same treatment as individual identity. Only the most wooden approach to the First Amendment could justify the unprecedented line it seeks to draw.”
Actually, the entire dissenting opinion is awesome in Snape’s voice.
So, IN CASE IT’S NOT APPARENT WHERE I STAND, here’s my final point.
Corporations are not people. They’re not. If you create an independent airline, run it overseas free of regulation, make loads of money, and shut the company down when the JAA comes after your greedy ass, murder is not going to be among the charges brought against you. (although manslaughter might be, depending on how creative the attorneys of the people on your unregulated flights are)
Corporations don’t vote, don’t run for office, aren’t citizens. I defy Amazon.com to show me (His? Her? Zir?) passport. So why in the name of Saint Augustine’s thorny, music-hating knickers are we giving them the rights of a corporation? Even the FOUNDERS knew that corporations were imaginary entities, and they lived at a time when the human race still wasn’t 100% sold on the whole ‘the earth is flat’ thing.
In conclusion, I hope this case goes to the SCOTUS. And I hope they defenestrate it. Because it’s a part of the system that just bent Wisconsinover, if you’ll pardon my turn of phrase. And it’s contributing to the rise of negative campaigning, enough so that this upcoming election will be one of the ugliest in history. Think about that for a minute. And here’s a citation for that: http://nymag.com/news/features/negative-campaigning-2012-1/
So that’s Citizens United v. Austin. And up topside is a link to the legit pdf, because DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. Go and read it yourself. KNOW YOUR S**T. Did you click on it? WELL DONE.
Some men just want to watch clapping gifs.
TA FOR NOW, INTERNET. It’s been real.