by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay
January 22, 2010
"The price of apathy towards public affairs
is to be ruled by evil men."
ancient Greek philosopher
...“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of
great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of
corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of
protecting corporate power against democracy.”
Australian social scientist
“The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer
decision-making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions:
kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas, party
dictatorships, or modern corporations.”
M.I.T. Emeritus Professor of Linguistics
On Tuesday, January 19 (2010), the Obama
administration got a kick in the pants from the Massachusetts voters when
they filled former Senator Ted Kennedy's seat by electing a conservative
The essence of their message was:
stop dithering and start governing; stop
trying to satisfy the bankers and please
the editors of
Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, and start caring
for the ordinary people.
Two days later, President
Obama seemed to have understood the people's message when he
announced a “Volcker rule” that will forbid large banks from owning hedge
funds that make money by placing large bets against their own clients, using
information that these same clients gave them. It was time. Such a policy
should have been announced months ago, if not years ago.
On the same day, however, a non-elected body, the U.S. Supreme Court, threw
a different challenge to the Obama administration.
Indeed, on Thursday January 21 (2010), a
Republican-appointed majority on the U.S.
Supreme Court took it upon itself to profoundly change the U.S. Constitution
and American democracy. Indeed, in what can be labeled a most reactionary
decision, the Roberts U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that legal entities, such
as corporations and labor unions, have the same purely personal rights to
free speech as living individuals.
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
“Congress shall make no law... abridging the
freedom of speech."
The only problem with such a wide interpretation
U.S. Bills of Rights (N.B.: The first ten
amendments to the United States Constitution are known as the Bill of
Rights) is that this runs contrary its letter and its spirit, since it
clearly states later on that,
"the enumeration in the Constitution, of
certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others
retained by the people, and reserves all powers not granted to the
federal government to the citizenry or States.”
The words “people” and “citizenry” clearly refer
here to living human beings, not to legal or artificial entities
such as business corporations, labor unions, financial organizations or
Such entities, for example, cannot vote in an election.
Indeed, laws governing voting rights in the
United States clearly establish that only,
“Adult citizens of the United States who are
residents of one of the 50 states have the right to participate fully in
the political system of the United States”.
No mention is made of corporations or other
However, with its January 19 (2010) decision, the majority on the
Roberts U.S. Supreme Court is saying in
effect that even if artificial entities cannot vote in an election, they can
spend as much money as they like to influence the outcome of an election.
Money is speech for them, and the more a legal entity has of it, the more it
has a right to become powerful politically and control the political agenda.
In fact, what Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative Supreme
Court majority have done is to overcome a century-old democratic tradition
in the United States in granting a constitutional right to business
corporations and to banks, (because they are really the ones with a lot of
money), to use their enormous resources to not only participate in debates
about public issues, but also, and above all, to de facto dictate the
election of candidates of their choice to public office.
That's plutocracy, not democracy!
Plutocracy is defined as a political
system characterized by “the rule by the wealthy, or power provided
Democracy, on the other hand, is defined as a
political system where political power belongs to the people.
This means “a political government either
carried out directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of elected
representatives of the people (representative democracy). The terms "the
power to the people" are derived from the words "people" and "power" in
This fundamental idea of democracy was well summarized by President Abraham
Lincoln, in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, when he said that it is,
“a government of the people, by the people
and for the people.”
This is a definition that is based on the basic
democratic principle of equality among human beings.
But now, the Roberts Court's decision must have made President Lincoln turn
in his grave, because that decision, in effect, transfers political power
from the living “people” to artificial corporate entities, with tons
of money to spend. If Congress does not act quickly to reverse this
decision, legal entities will be able to spend freely in the media to
support or oppose political candidates for president and Congress, and this,
as far as the last moment of a political campaign.
This is quite something!
By a stroke of the pen, the
Roberts Court has thus abolished the laws
governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how much
special money interests can spend to have the elected officials they want.
The government they want will largely be,
“a government of the corporations, by the
corporations, for the corporations.”
To reflect the new political philosophy of the five-member majority of the
Roberts Court, the
Preambule of the U.S. Constitution that
“We the People of the United States, in
order to form a more perfect Union...” should, maybe, more appropriately
be changed for “We, the business corporations of America...”
It is that much more ironic that the word
“corporation” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or in the Bill of
It is scarcely conceivable that the drafters of
the Constitution had anything resembling corporate entities in mind when
they drafted the Bill of Rights. But the Roberts Court majority does not
seem to agree with Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Mason...etc.
Because of their decision, the five conservative
members of the U. S. Supreme Court of today have become the new Fathers of
the U. S. Constitution.
For nearly a century, it has been assumed that the U.S. Bill of Rights
protected persons, not corporations. Even if sometimes the courts have
extended the rights of the14th Amendment banning the deprivation of property
without due process or equal protection of the law to the property of
corporations, it was never thought that the purely personal rights of the
first Amendment of the Bill of Rights applied to corporate entities as well
as to human beings.
This is understandable.
Business corporations are created through
legislation that gives them potentially perpetual life and limited liability
to enhance their efficiency as economic entities. While such characteristics
can be beneficial in the economic sphere, they represent special dangers in
the political sphere.
That is the rationale for not extending
constitutional rights to purely legal entities.
But now, the five-member majority of the Roberts Court have said that such
legalized artificial entities have the same constitutionally protected
rights to engage in political activities as living individuals.
This is clearly revolutionary or, more precisely, counter-revolutionary.