Corporate Personhood Goes on Trial Before US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, September 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What you can do.

1. Bill Moyers is hosting a program TONIGHT (Friday) on his Journal program on PBS (check local times) on the topic. Watch it and let others know.
The constitutionality of campaign-finance limits.
Bill Moyers Journal
September 4, 2009
If you miss the program, go to the website to read the transcript.

2. Common Cause is hosting a live web chat on the case on Tuesday, September 8 at 1:00 pm.
Info at
Call in…and let others know.

3. There’s a national program being held next Tuesday night in Western Massachusetts featuring 2 attorneys, one of whom helped file an Amicus (friends of the court) brief for 5 organizations, including the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), Shays 2, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation (see notice below). If you know of anyone in Western Massachusetts, let them know about the event. Check out the links in the meeting notice to familiarize yourself with the issue.

4. Call in to talk shows, write a letter to the editor, let others know about this threat to self-governance that this case represents. If business corporations are permitted to directly contribute to political candidates by claiming they have the First Amendment Free Speech “right” to do so, what little political voices We the People still have with out elected officials will be completely drowned out.

Once oral arguments are presented, the Supreme Court will probably take several months before they announce their decision. Many national citizen organizations and civic-minded attorneys are planning to come together to map out a strategy of next steps in the near future.


Thank you!


Join our Public Forum on the eve of a special “oral argument” session of the U.S. Supreme Court that could determine whether corporations have “corporate personhood” — the rights of natural persons.

7:30 pm, Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Media Education Foundation, 60 Masonic St, Northampton
Sponsored by Shays2 and POCLAD (the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy)


John Bonifaz
Legal director of Voter Action and former candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of State

Jeffrey Clements
Attorney who filed an Amicus brief representing five citizens groups arguing against expanding corporate First Amendment Rights.

Ward Morehouse
Co-founder of POCLAD

Carolyn Toll Oppenheim
co-founder of Shays2: Western Mass Committee on Corporations and Democracy

The Citizens of the Pioneer Valley

On the eve of a historic Supreme Court session in which the Court will hear arguments in a case that could ultimately decide the Constitutionality of the concept of “corporate personhood,” a Massachusetts attorney who filed a brief in the case (Jeffrey Clements) and a local attorney (John Bonifaz) with national expertise on the case will participate in a public forum on the key issues.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Sept. 9. At issue is whether corporations can claim free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, according to Clements and Bonifaz.
“The notion that corporations have the same speech rights as people under our Bill of Rights is contrary to the words, history, spirit and intent of our Constitution,” said Jeffrey Clements.

Clements filed his Amicus (“friend of the court “) brief for five citizens organizations including: POCLAD, Shays 2, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, and the Clements Foundation.

“The Citizens United case has little to do with citizens, and everything to do with corporations,” he said. “A Supreme Court decision saying that Congress and the States cannot regulate the use of corporate money in elections would be a severe blow to our democracy and to our Constitution. Corporations do not vote, speak, or act as people do, but are products of government policy to achieve economic and charitable ends. As such, corporations should not be allowed to influence our elections if Congress and State governments judge that such influence is detrimental to democracy.”

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is an ongoing legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Court should overturn existing state and federal laws that regulate corporate political expenditures. This case is on appeal from a lower court case of the same name from 2008, in which the lower court sided with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that “Hillary: The Movie ” could not be shown on television right before the 2008 Democratic primaries. Citizens United, Inc. argued that the ban on its showing the film violated its free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Legal scholars consider this case one of the most important First Amendment cases in years. It will determine the constitutionality of a hundred-year-old ban on expenditures by corporations to influence federal elections and similar longstanding bans in many states. A New York Times front page story on Sunday, Aug.29, 2009, states, “The argument comes at a crucial historical moment, as corporations today almost certainly have more to gain or fear from government action than at any time since the New Deal.”

“The Supreme Court has, for years, recognized that corporations, with their ability to amass wealth in the economic sphere, should not be allowed to drown out ordinary citizen speech in the political marketplace,” says John Bonifaz, legal director of Voter Action, a national non-profit voting rights organization. “If the current Supreme Court, through this case, were to reverse that long-standing precedent, it would unleash a torrent of corporate money in the political process, posing a direct threat to our democracy. Corporations are artificial entities with state-based advantages and, as such, they do not have the rights guaranteed to persons under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This pending Supreme Court case provides a clear opportunity to expose the myth of “corporate personhood” and the danger that it presents to free and fair elections.”

This case has generated some 40 Amicus briefs from groups on both sides as well as briefs from 26 state Attorneys General –including MA Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley–and the US Solicitor General and others.

The states Attorney Generals’ brief supports the Constitutionality of bans on corporate expenditures in campaigns, stating, “Corporate electioneering corrupts the relationship between public officials and the public interest by encouraging politicl dependence on narrowly concentrated private interests embodied in the corporate form” and does so “at the expense of broader and more dispersed interests represented by the people themselves.”

The briefs filed in this case by Citizens United and the Solictor General and a number of amicus briefs filed in support of the constitutionality of the corporate expenditure ban are available on the Democracy 21 Web Site, an educational organization working to eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics. Jeffrey Clements’ brief is listed on the site under “Women’s International League Brief.”

The Democracy 21 website includes a collection of articles on the case including one called “Will the Supreme Court Return America to the 19th Century?” in which the author notes the Founders were wary of corporate influence on politics — and their rhetoric sometimes got pretty heated. In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” This skepticism was enshrined in law in the early 20th century when the nation adopted strict rules banning corporations from contributing to political campaigns.


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