As your readers know, in the recent Montana Supreme Court decision in the Western Traditional Partnership case v. Attorney General the Montana Supreme Court, a majority of the Montana Supreme Court upheld Montana’s limits on political spending by corporations against attacks based on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.
In the Citizens United decision, which was a 5 to 4 decision, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for the Congress to limit the amount of money corporations could spend on elections. The Supreme Court majority said that corporations were “persons” under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and as such had the same free speech rights as human beings.
The 13th and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which helped start the Civil War. The Dred Scott decision held that blacks, whether free or slave, could never be citizens and were not “people” referred to in the Declaration of Independence. The 13th Amendment freed the slaves.
The 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection to all “persons,” that is, the former slaves.
In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the U.S. Supreme Court simply decreed, without hearing argument, that a corporation is a “person” for purposes of the 14th Amendment. A few years later the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the 14th Amendment’s protection for black people when it approved racial segregation in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Racial segregation was only ended by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
By 1938 Justice Hugo Black observed with dismay that, of the cases in which the Court applied the 14th Amendment during the first 50 years after Santa Clara, “less than one-half of 1 percent invoked it in protection of the Negro race, and more than 50 percent asked that its benefits be extended to corporations.” Over the years the U.S. Supreme Court has extended almost all the God-given rights recognized in the U.S. Constitution to corporations with the exception of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In Citizens United the majority appeared to create a small exception for some state laws. In Western Traditional Partners the majority on the Montana Supreme Court fit Montana laws through that very small exception. That case is on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two Montana Supreme Court Justices dissented from the decision by the Montana Supreme Court. One was Montana Justice James Nelson.
Justice Nelson, in his dissent, summarized why Citizens United is wrong and why the ruling that corporations are persons is very, very wrong. He wrote: “Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people — human beings — to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creations of government.
“Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”
The U.S. Supreme Court was profoundly wrong in Dreg Scott, in Santa Clara County, in Plessy v. Ferguson, and now in Citizens United.
Paul Van Tricht