Jim Hightower | The Supreme Coup

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:20 By Jim Hightower, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

Despite 234 years of progress toward the American ideal of equality for all, we still have to battle unfairness.

How happy, then, to learn that a handful of our leaders in Washington took bold and forceful action last week to lift another group of downtrodden Americans from the pits of injustice, helping them gain more political and governmental power. I refer, of course, to corporations.

Say what? Corporations should get more power over our elected officials?

"Free the corporate money," cried the movement's leaders, demanding that America sever the few legal restraints that remain on corporate efforts to buy our elections. "Si, se puede," chanted these assertive champions of corporate supremacy -- "Yes, we can!"

So, they did. "They" being the five doctrinaire corporatists who now form the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's remember their names: Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. These five men, on their own whim, have executed a black-robed coup against the American people's democratic authority.

They took an obscure case involving a minor violation of election funding law and turned it into a constitutional upheaval. Rushing their handpicked case through the system, they issued a 5-4 decision on Jan. 21 that overturns a century of settled American law and more than two centuries of deep agreement in our Land of the Free that the narrow interests of corporations must be subjugated to the public interest.

Indeed, the founders of our Republic saw corporate power as an inherently selfish and perpetual danger to democracy, and most leaders of that day believed that corporate entities should have no role whatsoever in politics. Thomas Jefferson bluntly declared in 1816 that the country must "crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."

The Alito-Kennedy-Roberts-Scalia-Thomas cabal, however, has unceremoniously dumped the wisdom of the founders, along with volumes of American judicial precedent, to assert that poor little corporations today are victims of political "censorship" by Congress, states and cities that have outlawed the use of corporate funds in elections. Such restrictions, ruled the five usurpers, violate the "free speech rights" of corporations, putting corporate interests at a disadvantage with other political interests.

Disadvantage? This would be hilarious, were it not so dangerous. No other group in American has anywhere near the voice and raw political power that corporations exert every day. Campaign donations from individual corporate executives (and from their PACs, 527s, front groups and other channels) total hundreds of millions of dollars each election year, effectively shouting down the voices of ordinary folks (the Wall Street bailout being but one sterling example).

Yet the Court has just handed these political powerhouses their wildest dream: access to the multi- trillion- dollar ocean of funds held within the corporate entities themselves. Every business empire -- from Wall Street to Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil to the China Overseas Shipping Company (yes, the five wise guys even waved foreign corporations into our political funfest) -- can now open the spigots of their vast corporate treasuries and send a raging torrent of their special interest cash into any and all of our national, state and local elections.

Two legal perversions are at work here. First, the Court has equated the freedom to spend money with the freedom of speech. But if money is speech, those with the most money get the most speech. That's plutocracy, not democracy, and it's totally alien to our Constitution, as well as a gross distortion of the crucial principle of one person-one vote.

Second, a corporation literally cannot speak. It has no lips, tongue, breath or brain. Far from being a "person," a corporation is nothing but a piece of paper -- a legal construct created by the state as a mechanism for its owners to make money.

Actual people in the mechanism (shareholders, executives, workers, retirees, lenders, et al.) can and do speak politically -- in many diverse voices that express very different viewpoints. But the corporate entity, which the court cabal is trying to turn into a Frankenstein monster, is inanimate, incapable of thought, inherently mute and, in itself, no more deserving of human rights than a trash can would be.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 27 January 2010 17:25