Paul Cienfuegos’ November 10, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
Today is the fifth week in my series of commentaries that attempt to unveil the fascinating story and chronology of how the Supreme Court – over the past 196 years – has transformed the business corporation from an institution that was legally subordinate to The People, beginning after the American Revolution, into something having more constitutionally protected so-called “rights” than do you or I. Shall we proceed?
Since 1886, every time human beings have won new rights – like in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – corporations became eligible for them as well. This does not bode well for the future of the United States as a democratic society. So we as concerned citizens absolutely must shift gears in our activist work, and start to figure out how to dismantle these corporate “rights” before it’s simply too late.
But let’s get back to the history lesson.
In 1971, women finally got constitutional protections as “persons” under the 14th Amendment, in the case Reed v. Reed. There were earlier cases where it was assumed that women had equal protection, but this was the first case in which the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was ruled to apply to women, finally prohibiting differential treatment based on sex. And let’s not forget, corporations won access to personhood under the 14th Amendment in 1886, but women didn’t gain access to the 14th Amendment till 1971 – that’s 85 years later! No wonder corporations have so much legal and political power, and women have so little!
In 1976, in the case Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court ruled that political money is equivalent to speech – that to limit how much a person can contribute to an election is to discriminate against their constitutionally protected right to speak. A truly unbelievable and appalling decision. The most prominent portion of the case struck down limits on spending in campaigns, which is when corporate persons started to drown our elections in their money. This is 34 years before the Citizens United decision, which some in the media claim is the beginning of massive corporate spending in elections – a claim that is patently false.
In 1976, in the case United States v. Martin Linen Supply Company, a corporation successfully used the 5th Amendment to protect itself against double jeopardy to avoid a retrial in an anti-trust case.
Also in 1976, in the case Virginia State Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, the Supreme Court granted 1st Amendment free speech protections to commercial speech. From this point forward, advertising was now a constitutionally protected form of free speech.
In 1978, in the case First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, the Supreme Court ruled that the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment prohibits a state legislature from restricting corporate contributions to influence the outcome of political referendums. Their decision overturned a Massachusetts law, and state controls to limit corporate interference in state ballot initiatives unraveled rapidly after that.
There was a significant dissent against the majority decision, by Justices White, Brennan, and Marshall, who stated, “…the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only our economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process. …The state need not allow its own creation to consume it.”
In 1978, in the case Marshall v. Barlow, corporations won access to the 4th Amendment’s right against unreasonable search and seizure. The case involved an electrical and plumbing installation business that objected to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) visiting their shop to check for safety violations, claiming that a court warrant should first be obtained. This decision has made it close to impossible for OSHA to do its job.
In 1986, in the case Pacific Gas & Electric v. Public Utilities Commission, the court drastically expanded a corporation’s 1st Amendment free speech rights, by upholding the corporation’s right not to speak and protecting the corporation’s “freedom of mind”. The case involved a regulated utility company that was objecting to the extra space in their billing envelopes being used by consumer advocacy groups. There was a wonderful dissent by Justices Rehnquist, White, and Stevens, who stated, “To ascribe to such entities an ‘intellect’ or ‘mind’ for freedom of conscience purposes, is to confuse metaphor with reality.”
I’ve been sharing with you an unveiling of the fascinating chronology of how the US Supreme Court – over the past 196 years – has transformed the business corporation from an institution that was legally subordinate to The People, beginning after the American Revolution, into something having more constitutionally protected so-called “rights” than do you or I. We’ll be continuing with this timeline for our sixth and final week next Tuesday.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can sign up for my twice monthly Updates at PaulCienfuegos.com. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!