“Rights-bearing individuals do not forfeit those rights when they associate in groups” argue my Cato colleagues Ilya Shapiro and Caitlyn McCarthy in the John Marshall Law Review [SSRN via Cato at Liberty]:
Much of the criticism of Citizens United stems from the claim that the Constitution does not protect corporations because they are not “real” people. … This essay will demonstrate why the common argument that corporations lack rights because they aren’t people demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of corporations and the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, Virginia blogger/attorney Doug Mataconis [via the much missed Larry Ribstein] analyzes a constitutional amendment advanced by a number of Democratic representatives and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) which would, among other provisions, propose to abolish the constitutional rights of incorporated businesses, with the possible exception of rights held by “the press.” The measure would also impose a constitutional prohibition on (not just authorize official regulation of) such businesses’ engagement in “expenditures,” such as buying newspaper ads expressing their views, during initiative and referendum campaigns as well as elections for office.
Along with abolishing incorporated businesses’ rights, the Sanders proposal contains a further provision of high importance (flagged by Eugene Volokh) that would abolish the constitutional rights of any and all non-profits and similar private entities that are “established … to promote business interests,” and would impose on them the same constitutionally mandated silence during initiatives, referenda and the like. Note the results of this language, which we must presume are intentional: in, say, a fight over a ballot measure that would increase some business tax, the citizens’ committee organized to agitate against the tax would be forbidden to expend money upon a determination that it had been “established … to promote business interests.” Such a private group would also be deemed to have no constitutional rights of any other sort — rights against, say, having its meetings stormed and broken up by police. Meanwhile, the citizens’ committee organized to agitate for the tax would retain not only its rights to speak and to spend money on behalf of its views but also all its other constitutional rights. Rarely do politicians, in this country at least, make it so clear in advance that their intent is to silence their opponents.
Who are the lawmakers who would propose such a measure? The House version was introduced by Rep. Theodore Deutch [FL] and its co-sponsors are Reps. Steve Cohen [TN], John Conyers, Jr. [MI], Peter DeFazio [OR], Keith Ellison [MN], Sam Farr [CA], Barney Frank [MA], Marcia Fudge [OH], Raul Grijalva [AZ], Alcee Hastings [FL], Sheila Jackson Lee [TX], “Hank” Johnson, Jr. [GA], Rick Larsen [WA], John Larson [CT], Barbara Lee [CA], Carolyn Maloney [NY], Jim McDermott [WA], Frank Pallone, Jr. [NJ], Chellie Pingree [ME], Charles Rangel [NY], Betty Sutton [OH], Chris Van Hollen [MD], and Peter Welch [VT].