Constitution In A Box

ConstitutionBox

Testimony of Greg Coleridge
Democracy Day Public Hearing, January 17, 2019, Cleveland Heights City Hall

Think of the U.S. Constitution as a box. It symbolizes our democratic space, rights and responsibilities, and limits. It’s a space that allows our public officials and citizens to determine the kind of society – politically, economically, environmentally, socially – that we want. Its size has expanded with each of the 27 Constitutional Amendments, as were passed following democratic people’s movements. The box has also enlarged due to various interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court.

But other Supreme Court interpretations have vastly decreased that democratic space – the box that we call our democracy. Many of those interpretations involved activist Supreme Court decisions that granted corporations with never-intended unalienable constitutional rights – rights that trumped people’s rights. Following each decision by the court, our democratic space contracted – the box became smaller.

Examples:

1819 – Corporate perversion of the Contract Clause
Dartmouth College v. Woodward. A corporate charter is ruled to be a contract and can’t be altered by government. States had less flexibility to use corporate charters as tools to define corporate actions.

1875 – Corporate perversion of the Commerce Clause
Welton v. State of Missouri, 91 U.S. 275. The Supreme Court begins a century long effort to frame every corporations action as a form of “interstate commerce” – which overrules the police power of cities and states to uphold their duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities.

1886 – Corporate perversion of the 14th Amendment
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
Corporations are in effect granted equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee (288 U.S. 517, 1933)
Florida voter passed a law that levied higher taxes on chain stores than on locally owned stores. The Supreme Court overturned the law citing the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Interstate Commerce clause.

1906 – Corporate perversion of the 4th Amendment
Hale v. Henkel – Corporations get 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protection. The public no longer has the ability to publicly inspect corporate books and records to ensure accountability.

A 1978 decision prohibited OSHA inspectors from doing surprise inspections.

1922 – Corporate perversion of the 5th Amendment
Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon A regulation is deemed a taking. A corporation subject to certain regulations has to be compensated for lost future profits.

1974 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment –
Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 – Corporations granted the right NOT to speak

They don’t have to reveal information, even if that information is important for public safety (i.e. toxins in food).

1980 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment – Commercial speech
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp., v. Public Utilities Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557
Corporate “commercial speech” rights (to increase profits_ preempted the state’s right to protect the welfare of its residents.

1976 – Money equals free speech
Buckley v Valeo. Political money in elections is a form of constitutionally protected First Amendment “free speech.”

1978 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment – political free speech
First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765. U.S. constitutional law case defines the free speech right of corporations for the first time – the right to spend on issue campaigns.

2010 – Citizens United vs FEC
The ability to influence elections via money from wealthy individuals and corporations is expanded.

Our democratic “box” or space isn’t very large. So many people believe that what’s needed is simply to reverse Citizens United, end corporate political free speech and/or end “money is speech.” As you can see, however, our democratic space or box wasn’t nearly as large as it once was and needs to be before these Supreme Court rulings were made. It’s not enough to get big money out of elections before reversing the fact that our ability to self-rule has been inhibited by numerous court decisions.

That’s why Move to Amend calls for not only ending the constitutional doctrine that “political money is equivalent to 1st Amendment-protected “free speech,” but also calls for ending ALL forms of never -intended and at one time never-existing constitutional rights. Only a 28th Amendment that does both will enable government by We the People.

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Free speech math

Money-is-Free-Speech-SHUT-UP

Several conservative websites are abuzz over the charge that there were protesters at the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings this week. Several individuals claim they saw individuals who had been arrested for speaking out inside the hearings being handed cash outside the hearing on the street.

One of the eyewitnesses claimed that he spoke to one of the protest organizers who confirmed giving money to those arrested to pay court fines. It could also have been to compensate the individuals for taking off work. Either way, the conclusion was that the Kavanaugh protests weren’t legitimate.

Opposition to Kavanaugh, of course, is quite legitimate by many people for any reasons. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll shows Kavanaugh having the third-lowest support of any nominee to the Supreme Court in the poll’s history.

There are also legitimate questions about how legitimately objective if confirmed Kavanaugh would be if Donald Trump is indicted on any number of possible charges under the Mueller investigation. Kavanaugh was, after all, Trump’s choice. Though not atop the list of candidates recommended by the Federalist Society, he just so happened to be the only candidate with a solid record of opposing Presidents being prosecuted while in office. Just a coincidence no doubt.

It’s not a stretch to conclude that those who support Kavanaugh are the most upset about the “paid protesters” at the hearings.

But there’s a huge double standard here.

Kavanaugh’s record is clear in questioning the constitutionality of political candidate contribution limits, limitations affirmed in the Buckley v Valeo 1976 Supreme Court decision. Kavanaugh also is a big fan of the 2010 Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court case. Both cases legitimize political campaign spending as being equivalent to political free speech (i.e. money equals speech).

Kavanaugh has also expressed openness to foreign “dark money” political spending. In a 2011 case, Blumen vs FEC, he wrote an opinion upholding a ban on foreign political spending to candidates and campaigns. His opinion, however, excludes foreign spending on “issue ads” (i.e. political ads designed to influence an election without explicitly supporting or opposing any candidate), which can originate from corporations, wealthy individuals and even foreign governments. The sanctioning of foreign-funding of such ads is extremely troubling at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies and others claim Russians were involved in influencing the 2016 elections.

What’s the point of all of this, especially as it relates to paid political protesters?

Simple. As in simple math. Call it “free speech math.”

If “money equals speech” (A = B), then “speech equals money” (B = A).

Translation: protesters who speak out should be paid.

If corporations and the super wealthy can bankroll political attack ads (many of which are done without knowing the sources of the funding, thus the moniker “dark money”), then why the heck can’t protesters be paid for, well, exercising their free speech? During the Kavanaugh hearing. During city council meetings. When protesting on the street. The list is endless. Makes just as much sense as money being defined not as property but as political free speech!

The same people who are outraged about paying people to protest at the Kavanaugh hearing (who all show their faces and will reveal their identities when paying fines) should be much more outraged about the flood of money in our political system which has has been constitutionally shielded by previous Supreme Courts as protected “free speech.” These huge amounts of political cash amount to legalized bribery and results in the drowning out of the voices of the vast majority of people who aren’t investing in political campaigns. The magnitude of the two different forms of “paid speech” isn’t remotely close.

Those who proclaim that paying protesters isn’t legitimately democratic should not only more loudly assert but take action against the ever-growing tsunami of political money from corporate entities and the super duper wealthy flooding our political system as a massive threat to whatever is left of our democratic republic.

Which it is.

Which is why the solution in the short run is to oppose Brett Kavanaugh.

Move to Amend (MTA) supports a constitutional amendment to end political money defined as free speech and corporations in all their forms being anointed with constitutional rights (what many call “corporate personhood.”)

MTA has sent an Open Letter to every member of the Senate stating its objections to his confirmation. MTA has also prepared a questionnaire for US Senators to ask focused on his beliefs about corporate constitutional rights. Forward it to your Senators and request they ask Kavanaugh for his responses.

Please do all you can to oppose the Brett Kavanaugh nomination…whether you’re paid to do it or not.

Abolishing Money as Speech and Corporate Constitutional Rights

MTA

The fundamental threat to an authentically representative and direct democracy precedes the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission1 and other Supreme Court decisions asserting money is protected free speech to include the doctrine that corporations possess inalienable constitutional rights.

While there are multiple sources for the increasing perception, if not reality, that government isn’t responsive and accountable to citizens, the inordinate political influence and power of wealthy individuals and corporations may at the moment predominate. Any hope of attaining a political system widely perceived as legitimate and genuinely representing its citizens must include governing rules that sufficiently control the political influence and power of special interests.

Given the current political climate of profound government mistrust and widespread belief that it’s been captured by wealthy individuals and corporate entities for self-serving ends, a constitutional amendment addressing the constitutional roots of these duel threats is urgent and timely. No laws, regulations or Presidential decrees are capable of providing the essential defining authority over the overall role of money in elections and corporate entities in society.

A proposed constitutional amendment has been introduced in Congress, H.J.R 48, the We the People Amendment. It currently has 44 co-sponsors and a nationwide movement, organized by the Move to Amend campaign, behind it.

The We the People Amendment reads:

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]
Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

 

The proposed amendment’s Section 2 addresses the more familiar issue-area of money in elections. Its main element proposes abolishing the link between money and free speech, first established in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo2 decision. It goes beyond Citizens United because the corrupting role of money in politics predates Citizens United by decades.

If money is defined in elections as free speech, then those individuals and artificial entities who contribute/invest the most money possess the most speech. This drowns out the political voices of most citizens — hardly a recipe for a legitimate democracy.

Section 2 doesn’t establish any precise funding amounts or formulas. Such regulations would shift back from the judicial to the legislative branch – a more democratic arena where the public has greater influence and where regulations can be more easily adjusted as needed.

Section 1 of the proposed amendment identifies an equally important, but less publicly understood, impediment to the creation of an authentic democracy – constitutional rights to artificial legal entities (i.e. business, non-profit corporations and unions). Courts declared over the last century that sections of the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, originally intended exclusively for human persons, applied to corporate entities.

Corporate constitutional “personhood” rights have been used to overturn scores of democratically enacted laws protecting workers, communities, consumers and the environment. Most of these predated Citizens United and the First Amendment “free speech” rights bestowed on corporate entities in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti3.

While no “artificial entities” should possess Constitutional rights, they should have statutory powers and privileges. These would be defined and adjusted legislatively once inalienable rights are abolished. Like Section 2, these decisions would be shifted back where at one time they once existed from the judicial to the democratic legislative arena.

The We the People Amendment would dramatically increase the perception and reality of an authentic democracy.

Notes

1558 U.S. 310 (2010)
2424 US 1 (1976)
3435 U.S. 765 (1978)

 

Happy Birthday to “money equals speech!”

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Today is the 39th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Buckley v Valeo decision, decided on January 30, 1976.

Of course, 1976 was the year of the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution from Great Britain. That independence was supposed to provide liberation for people from a single all-powerful source – the King of England and his military arm (i.e. Red Coats) and economic/political arm (i.e. “Crown” corporations, such as the Massachusetts Bay Company, Carolina Company, Virginia Company, etc.). It was a very imperfect independence, to say the least, with only white, male property owners possessing inalienable constitutional rights. Nevertheless, the Revolution shifted sovereignty from a King to We the People. Leadership was no longer determined by God or by birth.

The Buckley decision contributed to the shifting back from self-governance by the many (at least on paper) to the few – namely to the very wealthy. The decision anointed that money was not property, but speech — as in free speech, as in having the right to donate or invest in political campaigns.

There could be no limits on how much of one’s own money could be spent on elections, no limits on how much money could be spent in election campaigns (and, by extension, efforts to limit campaign seasons), and no limits on so-called “independent expenditures” by so-called “outside groups” (corporations, unions, etc.), which often in reality coordinate their strategies with candidates.
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The decision left on the books limits on individual contributions to candidate campaigns, Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions to candidate campaigns and political party contributions to candidate campaigns. Corporate contributions made directly to candidate campaigns remained prohibited. But the “money = speech” mantra and doctrine was a pivotal win. It has served as a beacon for the power elite to continue to challenge limitations of money being spent in any way – what dwindling limits remain. And it has opened the floodgates to money into political campaigns by the wealthiest 1% and mega corporations.

Kings and Queens from their graves tipped their crowns to the Supreme Court for Buckley — as it is a means to ensure that those who own the country rule it.

Move to Amend believes We the People are the real sovereigns – and should possess the power and rights to rule. That’s why it’s working to not only overturn the Citizens United decision of 5 years ago, the Buckley vs Valeo decision of 39 years ago, and numerous corporate constitutional rights spanning more than 100 years ago – since the power elite have also used never-intended corporate constitutional rights to rule.

Make this day one to commit or recommit to ending all forms of corporate rule and the power of the 1%. Become involved or more active in Move to Amend.