Occupy Movement Organizes Protest at 80 Courthouses On Anniversary of ‘Citizens United v. FEC’

The US Supreme Court AP PHOTO
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The US Supreme Court - AP PHOTO

Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement will turn their attention to the legal system on Friday. They plan to gather at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu and 79 other court houses across the country to rally against the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the U.S. Supreme Court issued two years ago on January 21, 2010.

According to Scotusblog.com, the controversial 5-4 decision determined “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.”


In a statement issued January 16, the Occupy Wall Street movement said: “Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions corporations, which were rare entities at our nation’s founding. But thanks to decades of rulings by Justices who molded the law to favor elite interests, corporations today are granted privileges that empower them to deny citizens the right to full self-governance. Armed with these rights, corporations wield ever-increasing control over jobs, natural assets, elected officials, judges and the law.

“We believe corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges citizens and their elected representatives willfully grant them. Organizers of OCCUPY THE COURTS propose a Constitutional Amendment that will overturn the Court-created legal doctrines of corporate personhood and ‘Money Equals Speech.'”

Not everyone was displeased with the ruling. In fact, many conservatives and libertarians around the country agreed with the decision, saying it would be a violation of the First Amendment to rule otherwise.

Heritage Foundation, the nation’s leading and largest conservative think tank, published a number of opeds on the subject that said the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. FEC, “upheld some of the most important principles: the right to engage in free speech, particularly political speech, and the right to freely associate.”

Hans von Spakovsky of Heritage wrote on the day of the ruling: “It is no surprise that these rights are in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The Founders, who had fought a long, hard war with the English crown to establish our independence, knew that the ability to associate freely (think the Sons of Liberty) and to engage in political speech without being censored by the government were fundamental rights crucial to our republic. That is why the Supreme Court’s decision throwing out a federal ban on independent political expenditures by corporations (including non-profits) is a return to, as the Court said, ‘ancient First Amendment principles.'”

“The Supreme Court rejected the very idea that the government can decide who gets to speak and that the government can actually ban some from speaking at all, particularly those doing their speaking through associations of members who share their beliefs.

“Almost every one of the many associations we have in this country (no matter which side of the political aisle they are on), from the NAACP to the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association, are also corporations. Yet those corporate associations were prohibited under penalty of criminal and civil sanctions from expressing the views of their members in the political arena over which particular candidates should be elected to uphold the positions on important issues of public policy that their members believe in unless they complied with certain very restrictive, complex provisions.

“For-profit corporations and labor unions were also prohibited from engaging in independent political activity even though their businesses and the jobs of their employees and members can be greatly affected, damaged, or even lost because of the actions taken by elected members of Congress. There is no rational reason why they should not be able to engage in independent political activity.”

Justice Kennedy, wrote the majority opinion, saying restrictions cannot be imposed on certain speakers such as corporations and that free speech rights under the First Amendment are not determined by the wealth of the speaker.

Spakovsky said: “Those who criticize this decision have lost sight of a basic truth: the answer to speech they disagree with is not to restrict that speech, but to answer it with more speech. This decision will ensure that, as Justice Kennedy said twenty years ago in his dissent in the Austin case, there is no stifling of “the voices of some of the most respected groups in public life on subjects central to the integrity of our democratic system.”

Denise Roth Barber of Followthemoney.org explained: “The “Citizens United v FEC” ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has no effect on campaign limits in place at the state and federal levels but may effectively overturn laws in 24 states that ban or restrict corporations from funding advocation for or against state candidates. In the 22 states that prohibit corporations from giving to candidates, individuals contributed about half of the money raised by candidates and non-individuals provided less than one-fourth. The reverse is true in the 28 states that allow corporate giving.”





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