Worried that a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United might have consequences for the media? Want to change, as the Supreme Court has done, the Constitution to insert rights for corporations?
Don’t worry, and don’t do it for the media or the press, says the New York Times.
The Times has forcefully responded to Justice Alito’s recent effort to defend Citizens United by pointing to corporations that are press or media corporations. Nice try, says the Times, but that’s not going to cut it.
In fact, the Times calls Alito’s argument “specious.” “It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection,” says the Times. “It is their function – the vital role that the press plays in American democracy– that sets them apart.”
A few days earlier, a Times editorial recognized the Montana Constitutional amendment ballot initiative:
As Gov. Brian Schweitzer summed it up, Montanans are saying loudly enough for the Supreme Court to hear, “Now it’s up to Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to get the dirty, secret, corporate, foreign money out of our elections for good.
Here’s the entire piece on Justice Alito and the media argument:
Justice Alito, Citizens United and the Press
Published: November 19, 201“Last week, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. speciously defended the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case by arguing that the ruling, which allowed unlimited independent campaign spending by corporations and unions, was not really groundbreaking at all. In fact, he said, all it did was reaffirm that corporations have free speech rights and that, without such rights, newspapers would have lost the major press freedom rulings that allowed the publication of the Pentagon Papers and made it easier for newspapers to defend themselves against libel suits in New York Times v. Sullivan.
But Justice Alito’s argument wrongly confuses the matter. It is not the corporate structure of media companies that makes them deserving of constitutional protection. It is theirfunction — the vital role that the press plays in American democracy — that sets them apart. In Citizens United, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court ruled that the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, in limiting the amount that organizations could spend, severely restricted First Amendment rights. The law’s purpose and effect, according to the court, was to keep unions and most corporations from conveying facts and opinions to the public, though it exempted media corporations.
But the majority got that backward. The point of the law was to protect the news media’s freedom of speech and not the legal form that they happened to be organized under. While corporations make enormous contributions to society, they “are not actually members of it,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent. When the framers “constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind,” he noted, not that of corporations.
In New York Times v. Sullivan, in which the First Amendment was used to rein in the law of libel, the Supreme Court focused on the “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” It made almost no mention of the fact that The Times was a corporation. Nor were the free speech rights of a corporation any part of the ruling in the Pentagon Papers case.
The Citizens United majority never explained why any corporation that does not have a press function warrants the same free speech rights as a person. Neither did Justice Alito. Meanwhile, the false equivalence of money and speech put forward by Citizens United and the money it unleashed is wreaking havoc in our politics.