In January 2010, the Supreme Court made one of its worst decisions in years, if not decades, and maybe even the worst since the Dred Scott case in 1857.
In a 5-4 split decision, the court ruled in favor of Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit organization that had sued the Federal Election Commission.
That landmark decision by the Supreme Court means that it is now unlawful for the government to ban political spending by corporations in elections.
Thus, as a consequence of the Citizens United case, corporations and unions are now free to use their financial resources to air ads explicitly calling for the election or defeat of federal or state candidates for political office.
The justices in the majority ruled that corporations have the same First Amendment right to free speech as individuals, and for that reason the government cannot stop corporations from spending to help their favored candidates.
But a majority of the people in this country do not believe that corporations are people, in spite of what the Supreme Court has ruled.
Now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion.
Among other things, he lamented that the court “voted to overturn over 100 years of legal precedent by giving corporations the same status as individuals” by removing “legal barriers in place to protect the electoral process from corporate and legislative corruption, which is what the laws for the past 100 years were in place to do.”
Just a few days after the court’s decision in 2010, President Obama gave the annual State of the Union message.
In his speech, the president said: “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.”
Justice Stevens and the president were right: The Supreme Court made a bad decision.
That is why last November six U.S. senators introduced a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Citizens United ruling and restore the ability of Congress to regulate the campaign finance system properly.
That proposal is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (You can read more about that proposed amendment here.)
That is why Common Cause, the highly regarded nonpartisan advocacy organization, and other similar groups are working diligently to reverse Citizens United.
And that is also why the “Occupy the Courts” activity today is so commendable. Today is a national day of protest linking the Occupy Wall Street movement with the activities of the Move to Amend organization.
This protest is part of a one-day occupation of federal courthouses across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to protest the Citizens United ruling.
The “Corporations Are Not People” slogan is one that needs to be taken seriously by all U.S. citizens.
For the sake of our democracy, the bad Supreme Court decision of 2010 needs to be opposed – and reversed.
LeroySeat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.
A missionary to Japan from 1966-2004, he is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church.