More on the Montana Rebellion: Unanimous contempt for Citizens United

The Montana Supreme Court’s decision in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General (Opinion 12-30-11) directly challenges the empty rhetoric and dangerous delusions about corporations in Citizens United v. FEC. Citing with painstaking detail a factual record of corrupt corporate domination of Montana that required the people of Montana to ban corporate spending in elections, the Montana Court exposes the Citizens United decision as little more than a pep rally for a particular laissez-faire policy preference of the majority.

What’s really striking about the Montana case, though, is the utter contempt with which both the majority and the dissent view Citizens United and the notion of “corporate rights.” The dissenters viewed the specific facts about corporate corruption in Montana as being insufficient to distinguish the case from Citizens United. That doesn’t mean they like it, though. This is what Justice Nelson, a dissenter in the Montana decision, thinks about the “corporate personhood” ideology behind Citizens United:

Lastly, I am compelled to say something about corporate “personhood.” While I recognize that this doctrine is firmly entrenched in the law, see Bellotti, 435 U.S. at 780n. 15, 98 S. Ct. at 1418 n. 15; but see 435 U.S. at 822, 98 S. Ct. at 1439-40 (Rehnquist, J., dissenting), I find the entire concept offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited-liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creations of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.

Here’s the background on the case, and the Montana Supreme Court’s decision.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff Clements is co-founder and chair of the board of Free Speech for People, a national non-partisan campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, challenge excessive corporate power, and strengthen American democracy and republican self-government. He co-founded Free Speech For People in 2010, after representing several public interest organizations with a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Citizens United case. Jeff has served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. As Bureau Chief, he led more than 100 staff in the enforcement of environmental, healthcare, financial services, civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection laws. In private practice, Jeff has been a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, and in his own firm. Jeff also has served in leadership capacities on numerous boards, including that of the Portland Water District, a public agency responsible for protecting and delivering safe drinking water and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater for 160,000 people; Friends of Casco Bay, an environmental organization he co-founded with others to protect and enhance stewardship of Maine’s Casco Bay; and The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2012, Jeff co-founded Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides cost-effective capital to farmers and businesses engaged in local, sustainable agriculture. Jeff graduated with distinction in History and Government from Colby College in 1984, and magna cum laude from the Cornell Law School in 1988. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and three children. Jeff Clements Twitter: @ClementsJeff Email: jclements@freespeechforpeople.org
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