The recent ruling by a federal judge striking down Ohio’s false statement campaign law as unconstitutional reinforces yet again the absurd constitutional doctrine that corporations possess inalienable constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled that the state of Ohio couldn’t enforce its law seeking to prevent political false statements. This includes individuals, as well as the Susan B. Anthony List, a 501 c-4 corporation that challenged the law.
The group challenged the Ohio law after it was accused of violating it by former Cincinnati congressman Steven Driehaus, who charged that Susan B. Anthony List knowingly lied about his support of taxpayer funded abortions when he voted for the Affordable Care Act. Since the ACA does not allow taxpyer-funded abortions, Driehaus asserted the group knowingly lied in its campaign messaging.
The court’s decision treats human persons and corporations, which are artificial legal creations of government, as identical. They are not.
Governments do not create human beings. They do create corporations via charters, which were originally intended to define corporate actions. Without government, there are no corporations, which are legally distinct from a group of people informally coming together to achieve a common purpose.
Aside from whether the “right to lie” by individual human beings is a form of constitutionally protected free speech (after all, some forms of individual speech are already limited, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre, noise ordinances and time limits in speaking at public forums), the question of permitting corporations free speech or any other form of constitutional “rights” are political questions, not constitutional ones.
As was once the case in Ohio, vigorous discussions and debates in public political arenas are where decisions about the appropriate roles of corporations in our society should be made, not courts.
The court’s decision in this matter was not about individual free speech. It was about constitutional corporate rights. Susan B. Anthony was a person, a Quaker person at that. The Susan B. Anthony list, however, is a corporation.
Corporations are not persons. Continuing to treat them as such by the courts places in peril what little remains of our democratic republic.