To the editor:
The Bill of Rights was included in the Constitution because several states refused to ratify it unless the rights of individuals were clearly protected from the power of government. Free speech is certainly one of the most important of those protected rights.
During the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the meaning of free speech has been systematically distorted by a series of Supreme Court decisions. The first distortion came when the Supreme Court went beyond viewing corporations as “artificial people” for practical legal purposes and made them equal to individual human beings as regards constitutional rights. The second distortion was the court’s decision that equates money and speech.
Based on these distortions, the court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission (2010), denies both the Congress and the states the power to control corporate spending in elections. The bipartisan McCain-Feingold clean election law, as well many state laws, were thrown out as a result.
Supreme Court justices from both the right and the left have seen the dangers of corporate personhood and resultant corporate influence in elections. Prominent among them was the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In a 1978 dissent involving a Massachusetts law, he wrote: “In a democracy, the economic is subordinate to the political, a lesson our ancestors learned long ago, and that our descendants will undoubtedly have to relearn many years hence.”
In concluding the dissenting opinion in the Citizens United case, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “The court’s (majority) opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
Only a constitutional amendment can restore the power of the people’s government to control corporate spending in elections. Vote yes on Question 5 on the Beverly, Salem and Manchester ballots.