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SCOTUS swings for the fence

The Supreme Court is poised to strike down restrictions on corporate campaign money that have been in place since Watergate. The case – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – appears to hinge on freedom of expression and whether corporations and other non-breathing entities deserve the same first amendment rights as people.

At stake is the way in which democracy is conducted in the United States. Allowing corporations to aim multi-million-dollar negative advertising cannons at any candidates who displease them will fundamentally change the rules of the game.

Bill Moyers did an excellent show on this case back in September, in which he interviewed lawyers for both sides. There is, indeed, a solid legal argument to be made in favor of the first amendment, and free speech veteran Floyd Abrams makes it well to Bill Moyers.

But free speech does come with limits. Trevor Potter, the other side of the coin, argues that corporations are entities designed to care about one thing: Making money. And they’re very good at it, which is fine. Real people, however, care about a lot of things – religion, education, foreign policy, criminal justice. It does not benefit society to give so much license to immensely wealthy, artificial entities whose interests are by definition so narrow.

Apparently the case had been brought on some rather narrow grounds, but last year the Supremes sent it back for re-argument, which, as I understand it, is a good indication that they’re about to drop some sort of constitutional bombshell. Whatever happens, the New York Times reports that a combination of court rulings and FEC gridlock mean that campaign finance restrictions have already been worn down to a nub.

Get ready for a fun election year.

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