Kent Greenfield teaches constitutional and corporate law at Boston College Law School. He is most recently the author of “The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits.”
Two years ago this weekend the Roberts Supreme Court issued its most controversial ruling to date. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned long-standing campaign finance laws restricting corporate political expenditures, reasoning that the political speech of corporations was as important to the marketplace of ideas as the voices of human citizens. As is well known, denunciations of the opinion, which allowed groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts supporting or opposing candidates, were loud and widespread. President Obama even took the rare step of criticizing the court while delivering his 2010 State of the Union address — while some of the justices sat before him. As the rise of super PACs has already shown in the Republican primaries, the coming presidential election will be swamped with cash, and our democracy will not be better for it.
Unfortunately, the most prevalent critique of the decision — Corporations are not people! — is simplistic and dangerous. Many anti-corporate activists are coalescing their efforts around a proposed constitutional amendment saying that constitutional protections are intended only for “natural persons.” The amendment has been introduced in both chambers of Congress, and nearly 50 municipalities, including New York and Los Angeles, have endorsed it. Opponents of corporate power have announced plans to stage protests, or “Occupy the Courts,” including the Supreme Court, on Friday.