Over at Cato at Liberty, Ilya Shapiro makes an excellent point about the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and what has turned into the primary leftist attack against it:
The blogosphere has been abuzz on the heels of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United opinion. Hysteric criticisms of the speculative changes to our political landscape aside — including the President’s misstatements in the State of the Union — one of the most common and oft-repeated criticisms is that the Constitution does not protect corporations. Several “reform” groups have even drafted and circulated constitutional amendments to address this concern.
This line of attack demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of corporations and the freedoms protected by the Constitution, which is exemplified by the facile charge that “corporations aren’t human beings.”
Well of course they aren’t — but that’s constitutionally irrelevant: Corporations aren’t “real people” in the sense that the Constitution’s protection of sexual privacy or prohibition on slavery make no sense in this context, but that doesn’t mean that corporate entities also lack, say, Fourth Amendment rights. Or would the “no rights for corporations” crowd be okay with the police storming their employers’ offices and carting off their (employer-owned) computers for no particular reason? — or to chill criticism of some government policy.
Or how about Fifth Amendment rights? Can the mayor of New York exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there?
So corporations have to have some constitutional rights or nobody would form them in the first place. The reason they have these rights isn’t because they’re “legal” persons, however — though much of the doctrine builds on that technical point — but instead because corporations are merely one of the ways in which rights-bearing individuals associate to better engage in a whole host of constitutionally protected activity
That is, the Constitution protects these groups of rights-bearing individuals. The proposition that only human beings, standing alone, with no group affiliation whatsoever, are entitled to First Amendment protection — that “real people” lose some of their rights when they join together in groups of two or ten or fifty or 100,000 — is legally baseless and has no grounding in the Constitution. George Mason law professor Ilya Somin, also a Cato adjunct scholar, discusses this point here.\
This is a point that bears repeating, since it’s pretty clear that the anti-speech crowd on the left doesn’t really get it.