There is a Corporatist supremacy movement operating below the radar in America. US Corporations are using the First Amendment to undermine the corporate regulatory fabric that has been built up since the founding of the Republic. You know about the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which said that corporations were legal persons entitled to free speech rights. You remember last year’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, where the Supreme Court decided that the mandate in Obamacare requiring corporations to pay for some of their employees’ contraception is a violation of the company’s First Amendment right of religious expression.
Here are a few examples you may not know about:
On April 14, 2014, a federal court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment free-speech right not to tell anyone if they’re financing “war and humanitarian catastrophe” in Congo. The court decided that although corporations can usually be required to disclose “purely factual and uncontroversial information,” but, in this case, that this principle is limited to government efforts to protect consumers from deception.
The regulation was an obscure provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) that requires companies to inform the public if their products use conflict minerals. In the case of conflict minerals, the Act’s goal is to let consumers know if the products they are buying are helping to finance war.
To the court, that provision of Dodd-Frank is unconstitutional, because “it requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups.”
This is part of a growing Corporate movement to use their rights of Free Speech under the First Amendment to escape regulation, and it has been steadily winning victories in the federal courts.
Another case: In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), released a rule requiring businesses to put up an 11”x17” black-and-white poster notifying employees of their rights under federal law. Beneath the official NLRB seal and above the phrase “This is an official government poster,” it informed employees that they have the right to join, or not to join, a union, and that they cannot be coerced into doing either.
The National Association of Manufacturers sued the NLRB and In May, 2013, the US Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit struck down the NLRB’s rule on First Amendment and statutory free speech grounds. The Court said it did not matter that the “speech” in question was a non-ideological poster that stated US law. And it did not matter that the rule placed no constraints on companies’ speech or on the free flow of information. The Court held that the act of compelling a company to “host or accommodate another speaker’s message” was enough to violate its free speech.
Over the past few years, corporations like Nike, Verizon, Google, and the credit ratings agencies like S&P and Moody’s have been crafting (and winning in court) with innovative new First Amendment defenses to blunt all sorts of “government intrusions”.
What’s going on? The right of free speech was closely connected with the defining idea of government by “We the People“. James Madison explained that in his view, “free communication among the people” is “the only effectual guardian of every other right.”
From the Country’s founding until late in the 20th century, the courts didn’t rule that the First Amendment protected very much of corporate speech. But now, Corporations are busy collecting a portfolio of First Amendment case law that establishes that corporations have a First Amendment-protected right to avoid much of government regulation. If this continues, it will change our society:
• There will be no corporate transparency
• No way to enforce workers’ rights
• No way to compel companies to protect investors or shareholders
Most financial regulations will cease to provide meaningful value to consumers.
Perhaps we have to ask our Courts to remember Justice John Marshall, who wrote in 1819, “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.”
All of the regulations that helped foster a strong economy and a strong middle class during the 1940’s through the 1970’s are now being weakened through a Corporatist revolution, enabled by our courts.
America is looking at the start of another period of unfettered capitalism. The rise of the Corporatists is at hand. We have reached the point now where we have government of the Corporation, for the Corporation.
What are you (we) gonna do about it?