As of today, in a landmark 5-4 ruling by our Supreme Court, corporations have the right, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to spend an unlimited amount of money on ads to support a candidate for office. Essentially, I am free to pay my $50 or $100 to support my candidate, while Citigroup or Exxon Mobil are free to spend their $500,000,000 on the opposing candidate.
For a long time now, human citizens have had an unfair advantage over these poor corporate entities. But this new ruling levels the playing field, permitting a gargantuan money-making machine trying to support its need for profit to compete fairly with individuals who push all sorts of personal and selfish agendas, like a reasonable education for their kids, air that doesn’t eat into everyone’s lungs, and water that’s clean enough not to lower children’s IQ scores by ten or twenty points.
Some people are saying that these selfish individual citizens should continue to lord it over hapless behemoths like Wal-Mart and Bank of America. But in a stirring example of judicial activism at work (some people, like my friend Troy, don’t like judicial activism, but what can you do?) the High Court’s majority has taken power back from such annoying individuals, and given it to giant synthetically constructed entities, where it belongs.
After all, isn’t it a little silly in the twenty first century to think that our elected leaders should be beholden only to those interests that actually reside in our own country? Multinational corporations have needs too, including the needs of their shareholders in places like Romania and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
If the legitimate needs of those shareholders are not being adequately addressed by a candidate for U.S. Senate or, say, the U.S. Presidency, clearly it’s only fair to give that corporation the opportunity to spend a few billion dollars to flood our TVs and other media with non-stop highly polished advertisements featuring beloved actors and top directing talent, so they can state their case. What candidate in his right mind would dare resist such a juggernaut of First Amendment expression at its finest?
Yet one thing continues to confuse me, as our society marches forward into the future, where a corporation can finally be treated under the law like any other citizen. And that is the question of Habeas Corpus — or, as it should more properly be called from now on, Habeas Corporus.
In order to properly discuss this issue, we probably need some new language to distinguish these new kinds of citizens. I propose that we henceforth refer to them as “paper people”. I mean, under the first amendment they are real people, legally, just like you and I, only they are constructed of paper, rather than meat.
And just as logically, we should collectively refer to the older variety of persons — the kind that eat and sweat and perform various other unsightly bodily functions — as “meat people”.
Back to Habeas Corporus. Suppose (to take a random example), Wal-Mart has a little too much to drink one night (who hasn’t been there, right?) and ends up getting thrown in jail. So now you have a major corporation (sorry – a paper person) forced to spend the night locked in some local hoosegow with drifters, lowlifes and other assorted meat people. Who is going to protect Wal-Mart’s rights? Where is the Habeas Corporus?
There is so much uncharted territory here. Can the R.J. Reynolds Corporation be imprisoned for smoking indoors? If AT&T gets put in jail, is it entitled to a phone call? And just how many days in the slammer should General Motors get for driving without a license?
There’s just one thing I still can’t figure out — not to put too fine a point on it, or in any way denigrate a corporate citizen’s right to be treated like any other free individual in this great nation of ours. How do you fit a corporation in a jail cell?