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images-33Three Scenarios:  (1) A guy shouts FIRE!!! in a crowded theater. The Supreme Court rejects his free-speech claim, raps his knuckles hard, and confirms his ten-year conviction. (2) Same picture, but this time, the guy has incorporated himself. The Court acknowledges his free speech claim, tells him not to do it again, and reduces the ten years to ten hours of community service. (3) Again the same, but now he has a majority share in seven Senators and four Representatives. The Court calls him a latter-day Thomas Paine, hosts a reception for him, and rules that the community owes him ten hours.

Or so the Court seems to have ruled in recent cases that have made free speech an absolute, conferred personhood on corporations, conflated money with speech, and dismantled most of the limitations on political donations. Following are a few questions, and a few observations that would be fun to test out on the Chief Justice over coffee:

  • How can a corporation be a person? I had thought that, by definition (and the laws of physics), a person could only occupy a single, contiguous space at a given time; that she could not, at this very moment, be both at work in Pittsburgh and depositing money in her numbered account in the Cayman Islands.
  • To cite the Declaration of Independence, are corporations endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights? If so, are we talking about God or Henry Ford?
  • If a corporation, as a person, has a Constitutionally-protected right of speech, does it follow that it has other rights, like religious freedom? If so, can it take Communion? Must it practice the rhythm method? Is it allowed to eat pork?
  • If a corporation is a person, does its life begin when, for example, two guys at a brew pub remark how cool it would be to set up a social networking site. And, if, after the first three months, they abandon the idea, can they be arrested (or is that true only in Texas)?
  • If speech is a protected right, it must presumably have some intelligible content. If so, does the Sonic Drive-In ad featuring two morons talking and eating in their car qualify?
  • How can $$ be speech? The expression, Money talks, is a M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R, or didn’t you know that?

Is it possible that judicial fundamentalism could end up destroying exactly what it is trying to save?  To wit:

  • Corporations and the super-wealthy pump millions into the electoral process;
  • Money-fueled campaigning begins the day after the previous election and doesn’t stop, and political ads gobble up more and more media space and time;
  • The more they are hammered by negative political ads, the more cynical people become about politics;
  • The more political influence people attribute to corporations and the wealthy, the less they attribute to themselves;
  • Civic engagement and voter participation consequently decline;
  • The legitimacy of government institutions and officials declines;
  • The less citizens trust government, the more they rely on alternative arrangements to order their lives, pursue and protect their interests, and assure their security;
  • The rule of law collapses;
  • Unfettered free speech (aka, cacophany) reigns, on the street, and even in the courts,

At which point, a guy walks into the Supreme Court and shouts FIRE!!! Few hear him because it’s already pandemonium.images Those who do hear, ignore him since someone is always shouting FIRE!!! The Court burns to the ground. All that remains is a portion of the proud motto that once stood above the Court entrance, but now reads, EQUAL JU..ICE FOR ALL.

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