Something terrible happened to American democracy at the Supreme Court yesterday ….

by on January 22, 2010 · 37 comments

in Civil Rights, History, Organizing, War and Peace

US Supreme Court x's

The Roberts Court, 2010: Yellow X's mark threats to American Democracy. Front row: Associate Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Back row: Associate Justices Samuel A. Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Yesterday, January 21, 2010, the US Supreme Court dealt potentially a lethal blow to what’s left of American democracy.  The slim majority of  right-wing radical activists on the highest court in the land decided that corporations are people and that there should be no limitations on the amount of money they can spend on elections and candidates.

This means that corporations can now spend unlimited monies on any candidate and on any election they want.  The 5 to 4 decision overturned decades of corporate restrictions and overturned a century’s-old  limit on the role of corporate money in federal elections, on the books since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Led by George W Bush’s Chief Justice, John Roberts, he and the four radical conservative justices (Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) declared that the limits on so-called “independent expenditures” by corporations violate First Amendment free-speech rights, freeing corporations to spend money from their own treasuries on ads and other advocacy efforts.

The five conservatives put a radical pro-corporate spin on the First Amendment, and in doing so, placed into question rules designed to regulate even the worst campaign abuses by business interests.

Associate justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined John Paul Stevens in dissent.

The court’s ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC , in the words of Wisconsin  Senator Russ Feingold, now will allow corporations to ” just open their treasuries (and) completely buy up all the television time, and drown out everyone else’s voices.”

Giving corporations the same rights as citizens is not what the Constitutional framers and those who fought over 200 years ago for the Bill of Rights meant when they passed the First Amendment. Corporations are not even mentioned in the Constitution.  Here’s the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

See? Not one word about “corporations.”  This radical interpretation of one of  the most sacred and hallowed rights actually turned that right upside down. With this, citizens’ free speech rights will be severely curtailed and limited. Citizens’ free speech will be drowned out by the deluge of corporate ads and advocacy groups flooding the political marketplace.

The majority did allow restrictions on direct donations by corporations to candidates and political parties. But the behemoth corporations – with their immense resources and their driving aim to create an American political and government structure in their own image, now will be able to throw as much money as they want on  television commercials and other forms of communication in order to mold elections as they desire.

This could very well be the end of what’s left in the American democratic arsenal. Progressive TV commentator Keith Olbermann called it “murder.

This is a Supreme Court-sanctioned murder of what little actual Democracy is left in this Democracy. It is government of the people by the corporations for the corporations. It is the Dark Ages. It is our Dred Scott. I would suggest a revolution but a revolution against the corporations? The corporations that make all the guns and the bullets?

Maybe it won’t be this bad. Maybe the corporations legally defined as human beings, but without the pesky occasional human attributes of conscience and compassion maybe when handed the only keys to the electoral machine, they will simply not re-design America in their own corporate image.

But let me leave you with this final question: After today who’s going to stop them?

Some progressive reformers are now calling for the United States Constitution to be amended in order to restore the Teddy Roosevelt principle:

All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.

Activists created a Move to Amend campaign, which debuted as a website for activists moments after the court ruling came down.

The Move to Amend coalition declares:

On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions. The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule.

We Move to Amend.

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

1. Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

2. Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.

3. Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

Within hours of the decision, more than 3,500 Americans had signed on as backers of this particular initiative. At this moment (Jan. 22 at 2:00 pm PST) there were 21,771 signers.  Go here to sign the petition.

If this whole thing is not reversed, the corporations will own outright the political system, which by definition is fascism.  What do we say in answer to Keith Olbermann’s “who’s going to stop them?”

If we don’t answer “The People” and then in fact stop them, it’s all over. We then have to get ready for the New Dark Ages.  Yet, there’s a little time left. Not much. Stand up for what’s left of American Democracy.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

not a redneck in east county January 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm

i signed it.


Ernie McCray January 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

We the People are pretty much a sorry lot. A man tries to get us some free insurance and we rant and rave and behave like he is taking us down a trail to socialism as though socialism is a boogey man with bad breath. Our kids get sent off to war with barely a peep from us while corporations are bailed out while so many of us go without basic necessities, balled out for not living within our means as though we had means and the Supreme Court of the Land, jokesters who give in to the demands of the rich and powerful, gives them the go ahead to buy themselves even more power.
And We the People take very little heed to our own cries, to our own needs, giving vent to our greed like the people of Massachusetts voting in a man who vows to keep the country from having the health care that they enjoy. Kind of goes against the grain of the promises of this so called Land of the Free, if you ask me.
Thanks, Frank, for telling it like it is.


PSD January 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

The more I see the more I believe the whole system’s a crock, and has been at least as long as I’ve been alive. When’s the revolution start?


Frank Gormlie January 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I dunno, but sign me up, dude.


Ernie McCray January 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I’m in.


Frank Gormlie January 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Okay, now that we have the sixty-something and the seventy-something sections started, who else?


Ernie McCray January 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Great question.


Margaret January 23, 2010 at 8:48 am

The 40-somethings are represented here too.

And as I asked on my blog, where are the Tea Partiers on this–what is their stand? I have had to put up with their arguments and questions regarding health care reform and Medicare and Social Security as a “slippery slide into socialism,” so now my question back to them is where is your outrage as this decision? Do you get it? The voice of the people–we don’t count.

I see this decision as a stepping-off point for more to come. Yes, I am that pessimistic. Tell me if I’m wrong.


Frank Gormlie January 23, 2010 at 9:59 am

Welcome to our non-violent revolution, Margaret. I checked out your blog – right on! Love the intro line: “To all those who oppose health care reform in this country. Read this because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

We’re marching on Washington, DC because all levels of government have failed us.


Margaret January 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

Thank you, Frank. I’ve gotten into some trouble for that, but I have been so outraged the past two years, it just kind of exploded out into digital form.

Maybe Paul and I don’t have to leave the country after all, we’ll just move to Ocean Beach.


Frank Gormlie January 23, 2010 at 10:14 am

Don’t forget – Ocean Beach is not just an address, it’s an attitude.


Sunshine January 23, 2010 at 10:33 am


Patty Jones January 23, 2010 at 9:58 am

i got the fiftysome’s


Frank Gormlie January 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

Right on, sistah! Okay, now we have the forty-somethings, the fifty-somethings, the sixty-somethings, and the seventy-somethings represented. Anyone under 40 want to join?


nunya January 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm

This is an AP piece, sent out via e-mail from FindLaw .

The constant packaging of “corporations and unions” like unions are endowed with the same amount of power as corporations makes me sick. This sentence in particular stood out:

“The legal community was split over whether corporations or unions would be the biggest beneficiaries.”


Molly January 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm

The fascist five Supreme Court majority were all selected by Republican presidents. Don’t ever, ever tell me again that there is absolutely no difference between Democratic and GOP presidents.


Henry Bissonnette January 22, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I am happy to be included here.


Patty Jones January 23, 2010 at 10:15 am

Henry, glad to have ya.


Frank Gormlie January 22, 2010 at 10:17 pm

By 10 pm Friday PST there were 25,000 who had signed it.


fstued January 23, 2010 at 7:27 am

At least Unions will be allowed to have a say. Now it is just getting enough people to support unions. Oh wait that might be like socialism. Now that it IS scary.
I am completely blown away by the decision.
I knew Bush and Cheny would be bad but they were far worse than my wildest imagination.


Editor January 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

Here’s the President on this ruling: President Barack Obama on Saturday sharply criticized a Supreme Court decision easing limits on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions, saying he couldn’t “think of anything more devastating to the public interest.” He also suggested the ruling could jeopardize his domestic agenda.


Margaret January 23, 2010 at 11:26 am

There is also a petition that Rep. Alan Grayson from Florida has out. Here’s the link:

He is trying to advance six bills he has proposed to rein in corporate campaign ads. It’s a start.


lane tobias January 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

i signed it. 20 somethings in….


Dave Sparling January 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Five Supreme Court judges just looking out for the poor corporate welfare rich people. This will assure that the right kind of politicians will always be there in times of need, giving tax breaks to BIG OIL for instance.


annagrace January 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

We signed it. 50 something’s in…. I also remembered that my passport has expired.


jon January 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I signed it, so there’s your 30 somethings.


Larry OB January 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Isn’t a corporation also a peaceful assembly of poeple? Just kidding. We can’t count on small stockholders to do the right thing even if they wanted to. Their voice and vote is usually dwarfed by the hedge funds and investment groups than own more stock than all the individuals combined. Plus it’s usually the fatcats that shape the ballot.

My biggest concern is whether the corporations would get a tax break for political contributions.

Hmmm. Politically targeted ads on the internet? Maybe facism is inevitable…Buy Google.


jettyboy January 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I am very curious how the Tea Party ignoramuses will spin this. This will tell what kind of “freedom” they are really after won’t it?


Danny Morales January 23, 2010 at 7:47 pm

“The decision is perfectly consistent with the character of the Supreme Court as a ruling class tribunal… Great issues are not decided by the courts but by the people and that court will be heard from in due time… Sixty years ageo the Supreme Court affirmed the validity of the Fugitive Slave Law to save chattel slavery. Five years later that infamous institution was swept from the land in a torrent of blood… I defy the Supreme Court and all the powers of capitalism to do their worst.
All hail to the workers of America and the world!
The day of emancipation is dawning.”
– Eugene V. Debs, March 10, 1919


Frank Gormlie January 23, 2010 at 8:25 pm

One of the great Americans of the first part of the twentieth century. He ran for President as the Socialist Party’s candidate from a jail cell. Part of our history that we’re not taught. Thanks, Danny.


the transoniq one January 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

Under the Constitution, the most powerful act a President may do (besides war poweres) is the appointment of the Federal judiciary. As we are witness, the facsim of the prior regime has risen within the judicial appointments and the Nation is now accelerated down the slippery slope towards total corruption. We must fight this oppression and urge our fellow citizens to oppose this faceless, moneyed monstrosity. Mr. Olbermann was correct when he described this ruling as murder.


Gary Ghirardi January 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Time for a new corporation to start selling shares; Corporation Against American Fascism (CAAF). We can see if that Company will be seen as a legitimate business interest lobbying the “elected representatives” when it comes time to funding the candidates.


George January 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm

I like what one LAT reader wrote today (Jan 26):

“So I guess now now we have the Supreme Corp.”


dharmagirl January 30, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Two more options for working from this sucky place we’ve found our country:
1. Socially Responsible Investing — there are a few places that have developed mutual funds that look at corporate responsibility. people need to keep bugging the big firms for this option too. Ever penny ads up!

2. Truth in Political Advertising. I actually read the fine print before I vote; I’ve been horrified by how many times an ad I saw on tv twisted what the bill actually said.


Molly April 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm

It is a Phi Beta Kappa problem. Look at the Alderman case search
Supreme Court: Did it just hint at stance on a health-care law challenge?
Scary, but Thomas and Scalia are the only 2 that desented. The other 7 are Phi Beta Kappas as are 2 of the last 4 presidents, the other 2 if not Phi Beta Kappas, are sons of PBK. Want to know some other families with an inproportionate amount of PBKs?
Rothschilds, Rockerfellers, DuPonts, not to mention Larry Fink, Bernanke, Kevin Warsh, Frederic Mishkin, all at the fed, Paul Atkins at the SEC etc, etc, etc…….


Baldo Krapowitz September 23, 2021 at 12:08 pm

Silly article. Gormlie, burned out old hippie! lol.


Frank Gormlie September 23, 2021 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for bringing this 11 year-old article back up about the US Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people. It’s still true.


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