Floyd Abrams on Citizens United

Why do so many in the press despise Citizens United, a decision whose point is to protect First Amendment liberties? One factor may be that the decision undermines their own sector’s claims to specialness by making clear that press liberty is meant for everyone, not just for media professionals and their organizations. [Floyd Abrams, guest-blogging at Volokh]


  • And it was against the Precious.

  • Perhaps because many (of us) think that treating corporations as people for the purposes of speech is dangerous? Modern capitalism has created entities that only believe in maximizing the short term gain, and which have no structure for accounting for the costs they impose on the environment and the future. They don’t care about people, except as fodder for either purchasing or producing their products, and consider people to be a replaceable resource that should be used up as much as possible. They don’t care about politics, except that they want to make sure they get to take as many resources as possible without having to deal with the long-term effects of using these resources, and they don’t want to have to pay for anything if they don’t “have” to. If things start going wrong where they are “located” (since these are mostly multi-national, location is a complicated thing), they look around and move away without repairing any of the damage they have done.

    Since even before this decision was made, politicians were basically already owned by the large corporations, a lot of us are unhappy because this just means that our elected “representatives” are even more indebted to the rapacious corporations. I don’t for a minute believe that my representative or senator is going to do anything that endangers their ability to get re-elected. And since the Citizens United ruling, this means that they need to get even more money to spend for their campaigns, so they are even less likely to stand up for a principle.

    (The idea of a corporation is useful, and even sensible. Most small and local corporations are, at least grudgingly, willing to work with their environment (not primarily in the ecological sense, but in the community sense). However, a misunderstanding that capitalism requires a public corporation to maximize “share-holder value” above all else has created a type of large corporation that would destroy the world if it would add an additional dollar to their share price; and that has no way to account for the detrimental effects of said destruction. The people running such corporations often behave like they have no choice but to accede to this, like soldiers who refuse to disobey an unlawful order.)

    I do understand the first amendment logic backing this; I think the real issue is treating corporations as people for the purpose of politics. I also understand the concern about treating media companies differently than non-media companies (and how you differentiate these). However, there must be some way to both allow reporting, and not let corporations which effectively have more money than many states purchase the laws that only benefit them.

    • Well, here’s the other thing. If you say you can restrict the speech of “corporations” but not people, that doesn’t stop the wealthy owners of mega-companies from speaking – they can still afford to buy as many ads as they want. It *would* stop “corporations” like Citizens United, NRLC, NARAL, the United Way, etc., from speaking. “Corporate” restrictions only matter when people actually have to pool their money to buy ads, instead of being wealthy enough to just buy them directly.

      It’s not that Citizens United (or any corporation) is an actual person deserving of its own human rights. A corporation is a legal fiction, not an actual thing – and that’s exactly why restricting them is problematic. In reality, if you look past the legal fiction, a corporation is a *group of people*, and *those people* have rights. If you restrict what a group of people can do, you are restricting those people, in a real sense. If a group of people want to pool their resources to make a film, their best option is to form some sort of corporation.

      If the law sets a limit on individual campaign donations, then a corporation should not be able to donate to a campaign, because that would allow people to essentially double-donate by using both corporate and individual contributions. But if you’re talking about things that people legally have the right to do without limit, like make films, there’s no reason to restrict corporations from doing those things.