Monday’s Mtg: Corporations and the First Amendment

You may not know it, but we may be in the beginning of a mini-revolution in Constitutional doctrine, and many conservatives are determined to make it a full-on revolution. It all concerns the first amendment and its applicability to corporate behavior as both a free speech and free religious exercise matter.

The first two linked articles, below, explain it in detail, but, long story short, some big companies, backed by conservative legal groups, have persuaded courts that some government regulations intrude on companies’ free speech rights. One day soon, commercial speech may be as protected as political speech is now, and corporations’ political speech rights may equal those of natural persons. Some companies are even claiming first amendment religious rights, as in the Hobby Lobby case due to be decided by SCOTUS any day now. (We discussed conscience clauses as a topic a year ago.)

So, you can see why I thought this topic might be perfect for us. It’s one of those huge political changes that goes on right under our noses because it’s under the Media’s radar due to its complexity and lack of cable TV-friendly drama. I’ll lay out some of the basics on Monday night and then we can discuss it. Bruce probably follows this issue closely, too, but from the other side, politically. We might even have some common ground, since I think some of the issues involved are not nearly as cut and dried as they seem on first blush to progressives. (Example: If corporations have no political free speech rights, then what happens to journalism? Can the government shut down the New York Times?)

Discussion Questions –

  1. How have companies been trying to expand corporate first amendment rights? What justifications do they use?
  2. Why is this happening? Does it mirror attempts to use the bill of rights to enshrine corporate power a century ago (in the “Lochner era”)?
  3. Which constitutional principles are at issue? Which political principles – and political and economic interests – are at stake?
  4. Liberals: Are you sure corporate commercial and political speech shouldn’t be protected under the Constitution? Why not? Should the non-powerful be given a special advantage?   How can we distinguish “good” (i.e., protected) speech from “bad” unprotected speech?
  5. Conservatives: If the first amendment protects commercial speech, then how can basic health and safety and consumer and investor protections be protected? What about the integrity of the democratic process; doesn’t that deserve protecting, too?

Links – The 1st amendment now is being used to…

NEXT WEEK: What is the Future of Abortion in the United States?


One response

  1. The doctrine that corporations are legal “persons,” and therefore entitled to protection under the XIV amendment, goes back to the 19th century. It was used by the Supreme Court to convert that amendment from a pillar of personal liberty, originally intended for the freed slaves, to a charter of rights for monopolists.
    Now however we have moved this doctrine to a new level, threatening to make our “democracy” into a mockery where money can buy any election.

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