In September 2009, the right-leaning Supreme Court of the United States rendered the controversial Citizens United decision. In its judgment, the SCOTUS determined that “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.” In other words, business entities were conferred the same First Amendment rights that you or I would have with regard to promoting or disparaging our chosen candidates. With its decision, the Supreme Court willfully opted to ignore two essential differences:
- Corporations lack two feet and a heartbeat.
- Regular folks typically do not have access to the same millions (or billions) that a company desiring to wade into politics can leverage, rendering the playing field inherently unequal.
Legitimate fears that the nation was on a slippery legal slope that would eventually confer full personhood on corporate entities commenced. Independent Bloomberg editors ran a piece in June of 2012 entitled, The Supreme Court’s Cowardice. The writers pointedly concluded: “The First Amendment ain’t beanbag. What undermines the ruling’s legitimacy is its flights of fancy about the world of political finance. In an assertion of shocking naivete, Kennedy, writing for the court’s 5-4 majority, said corporate independent campaign expenditures ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'”
Well said. But as we approach the end of 2013, it seems that Court may decide to undertake another key case in the New Year that will provide it with an opportunity to reverse its gradual and unconscionable determination that the Bill of Rights extends to DBAs. Alternatively, as many liberals and independents justifiably fret, SCOTUS may instead cement corporate claims to privileges and rights historically reserved for people by taking another look at the First Amendment. Only this time, the Supreme Court may weigh-in on a company’s freedom of religious practice.
The New York Times ran an article this week with the rather boring title, Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations. Don’t let the dull syntax fool you. This is a big deal and we should all be paying attention. Centered around Hobby Lobby, a successful chain of retail craft stores, writer Adam Liptik characterizes the complaint as follows:
“The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it.
Hobby Lobby, a corporation, says that forcing it to provide the coverage would violate its religious beliefs.”
Apparently, a federal appeals court agreed with Hobby Lobby’s owners, paving the way for the issue to be decided anew by SCOTUS. After all, the justices were the inspiration for the latest convocation of First Amendment rights to a corporate ledger. Per the Times piece, “the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said it had applied ‘the First Amendment logic of Citizens United.'”
It’s important to note that the Supreme Court is still deciding whether or not it will hear arguments in the case. Let’s hope they do. If not, the 10th Circuit’s ruling will become de facto law. Academics as well as regular peons (us) are concerned about the expanding implications of a right wing view of companies as people. Per the Times: “‘This is a perfect storm,’ said Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, adding that it is also a worrisome one. ‘Debates about campaign finance in Citizens United and abortion and Obamacare,’ he said, ‘could distort the court’s analysis of religious freedom.'”
It may seem obvious to most of us, but corporations are NOT human beings. They cannot bleed, do not experience emotions and in many cases, are seamlessly formed and dissolved without giving pain to anyone at all. What’s next? Do we arm Hobby Lobby with cannons to randomly shoot at customers it deems offensive to its moral code? If Hobby Lobby commits a crime, do we invite Target, Walmart, Home Depot and Best Buy to comprise a jury of its peers?
Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is.