Corporations Cannot Have Natural Rights... Duh

When I first read through the Citizens United decision that essentially made it illegal to "discriminate" against corporate political speech, I found myself very torn. On the one hand, I'm an extremely avid supporter of free speech rights, and Kennedy wrote the majority decision to tug at my heartstrings:

Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content.

On the other hand, something felt wrong.

In the days that followed, I realized the the court had pulled a bait-and-switch, finding a way to split defenders of free speech, preventing a consistent response to the ruling, and resulting in a fair bit of liberal support for the ruling.

If you read the above quote closely, you can see the lie hiding in plain sight. The court, without drawing much notice, calls corporations "speakers" in the context of the First Amendment.

The problem is simple. The Bill of Rights exists to protect, for the long term, a set of natural rights. If you don't believe me, read the writings of the anti-federalists, the guys who argued against the constitution and successfully agitated for the addition of the Bill of Rights in the first place:

That insatiable thirst for unconditional controul over our fellow-creatures, and the facility of sounds to convey essentially different ideas, produced the first Bill of Rights ever prefixed to a Frame of Government. The people, although fully sensible that they reserved every tittle of power they did not expressly grant away, yet afraid that the words made use of, to express those rights so granted might convey more than they originally intended, they chose at the same moment to express in different language those rights which the agreement did not include, and which they never designed to part with, endeavoring thereby to prevent any cause for future altercation and the intrusion into society of that doctrine of tacit implication which has been the favorite theme of every tyrant from the origin of all governments to the present day.

The language is a big crufty, but the meaning is clear. Without government, people have certain rights. They choose to surrender some of them to the government. The Constitution outlines the powers they have surrendered, and the Bill of Rights outlines specific cases where those powers may not tread.

However, corporations do not exist outside of government. They are not "creatures". Instead, corporations are creations of the government, and therefore cannot reserve any rights via a bill of rights.

Looking at the quote from the ruling again:

Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content.

The ruling fundamentally subverts that actual purpose of the Bill of Rights, using language that appeals to defenders of free speech to apply to entities that, by their very definition, the First Amendment cannot cover.

In short, the Bill of Rights protects the natural rights of people who have already surrendered a fair bit of their autonomy to the federal government. Corporations, by definition, cannot have natural rights, and since they don't exist outside of government, cannot have surrendered any autonomy to the government. Therefore, the Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment, cannot apply to them. QED.

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