Sunday, January 24, 2010

We The People, Incorporated

The Supreme Court of the United States is the last line of defense against laws which may violate the sovereignty of the country and infringe on the rights of its citizens. Though certainly not perfect, it remains the backstop, against which the misses of the Legislative and Executive branches must come to rest. It has a very narrow set of rules to work from -- the Constitution of the United States. It's only job is to ensure that no local, state, or Federal law violates those rules.

Now, the rules are subject to interpretation. The Founding Fathers worded each Amendment carefully, so as to make the intent of them clear, but leave room for subjectivity. They also ensured that the Constitution was amendable, where clarification or expansion was required. They made a clear hierarchy in the system of checks and balances, upon which the whole framework of American government was supposed to rest; the Legislative branch makes the laws, the Executive branch enables the laws, and the Supreme Court rejects those laws that violate the Constitution.

It has always been assumed that the Justices of the Supreme Court were impartial enough to look at the law for its essence and its legality, not for its political potential. Of course, where the business of humanity is concerned, to expect any individual to be completely impartial is to ask too much. Upbringing, education, happenstance, personal belief, religion -- all these things will have subtle influences on any person, and while a person can claim impartiality, they are betrayed by their humanity. Still, where codes and laws are concerned, the wisdom of Solomon is not required to hear the evidence and distill the essence of it and compare it to the law, and then determine if it is a violation of the Constitution.

Therefore, it is a bit perplexing that the Supreme Court decided in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to imbue corporations with the same rights to free speech as actual, living, breathing American citizens. In essence, the court has give the OK to corporations, both domestic and foreign, to meddle in the election of public officials. Though it stops short of giving them an actual vote, the decision means that a corporation is free to spend any amount of money attempting to support an incumbent politician or a rival to an incumbent, in order to tip the balance in Congress in favor of their corporate interests. A Sword of Damocles can now be hung over legislators, who cannot possibly raise enough money to oppose the concerted efforts of their corporate foes, forcing them to either toe the line, or resign.

One wonders just what predisposed the majority Justices to vote the way they did. Could they be so weak-kneed, as to feel the pull of corporate greed? Could they be so contemptuous of the average American citizen, that they feel that it is necessary to allow corporations to their thinking for them? Are they unaware that by granting these rights, they leave the door open to foreign entities that have majority stakes in American corporations? Were they oblivious to the havoc that several major corporations caused, with their poor business practices, which plunged this nation (and the world) into a global financial crisis?

The Founding Fathers certainly did not anticipate the extent to which companies would expand to become global corporations, with influence far beyond their borders. They most assuredly did not intend for companies to gain the rights of American citizens -- to have freedom of speech or even to vote. Companies and corporations are ephemeral entities, composed of many individuals, with no separate existence of their own. They were not the product of love, borne into the world via the pain of birth, to be nurtured by caring parents. Their function is to provide products or services for the consumption of the citizenry, to generate profits for their owners and/or shareholders.

It is obvious, given this decision, that there are two facts that cannot be in dispute: 1) the Supreme Court of the United States no longer functions as intended by the Founders, and 2) corporations have gained too much power over the government of the United States. This decision means that Congress will have a hard time passing meaningful campaign finance reform, if the Supreme Court will simply dismiss it as restricting freedom of speech for anyone, which leaves Congress paralyzed. Given the lifetime appointments of Supreme Court Justices, it is possible that such gridlock on campaign finance reform may remain for decades, until the majority justices from this decision have been replaced.

So it is becoming increasingly clear, that just as our ancestors felt the need to throw off the yoke of British oppression, we must rise up and throw off the yolk of corporate oppression. This is not a thing that can be accomplished using the current system; it will require that we, the citizens of America, use our Constitutionally guaranteed power, and call a Constitutional Convention, to alter the playing field, redefining the rights of citizens as belonging to citizens only, and to tackle the inertia represented on the Supreme Court by imposing limits on the tenure of Justices. Only by doing so, can we short-circuit the undue influence of business in politics, and ensure that the Justices of the Supreme Court have a clearer vision of modern society, rather than dragging along the influences of the past.

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