One truth about politics: when those who have taken up one side of an issue are forced to accept and defend that same issue, should it suit their needs to do so, the acknowledgement of their previous criticism will be generally non-existent.
Take the histrionics surrounding 2010’s Citizens United decision — “Corporations aren’t people! They shouldn’t have First Amendment rights! Elections will be bought and sold by evil dark money special interest groups! Those with the most cash will always win!”
Forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama managed to get re-elected despite the impressive amount of money that was raised to support Mitt Romney via super PACs that were not associated with his actual campaign, this idea that corporations — really just groups of people — shouldn’t retain First Amendment speech rights is proving quite the interesting conundrum for those who both HATED the Citizens United decision but now find themselves DESPISING that National Security Agency’s (NSA) peek under the hood at millions of lines of metadata on American citizens’ phone records.
Because corporations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google are taking the uncomfortable action of invoking their First Amendment speech rights to file suit, in the case of the former, and in requesting the release of records showing exactly how persistent the government was in insisting that the search giant provide them private information on American citizens.
Michael Turk wrote a terrific blog post detailing a similarly terrific piece on the ACLU v. Clapper case by Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic at his blog, Kung Fu Quip:
[T]he left, ever since the Citizens United decision, has been up in arms about this very idea of treating corporations as people and giving them rights under the Constitution. The recently formed group “Move to Amend” and the push for the “People’s Rights Amendment” aim to eliminate any rights of free speech for companies…News today, however, brings us another reason to ignore their latest cause du jour.
…Companies using their first amendment protection to push back against government overreach and domestic surveillance. Can’t be! We all know, from our friends advocating for these restrictions, that companies only use their rights to engage in political shenanigans!
So here are two cases – one involving the ACLU and one involving Google – that clearly illustrate the wrongheaded thinking behind the People’s Rights Amendment.
Wrongheaded, but, as the rules of politics demand, never to be admitted as such by those who have carried banners both assailing Citizens United and the actions by the NSA.
Turk closes his piece by asking an interesting — if slightly tongue-in-cheek question — designed to shine a light on some of the silliness that arises from advocating logically inconsistent thoughts. It has to do with a proponent of the People’s Rights Amendment and his assertions about the rights of endangered species. And it does a good job of showing the immediate lunacy of loud, under-informed advocacy.
But I’d like to close here with a thought about free speech rights of people when they decide to assemble and incorporate. Do anti-Citizens United groups think those rights of free speech disappear because groups of people decide to be defined legally as a corporation? Clearly the individuals at Google — who have a privacy reputation to protect if they want to maintain a loyal clientele — and the individuals at the ACLU, who represent other individuals they believe have rights to free speech, believe they don’t, at least currently, under the law, even though they, in the case of Google, may have been vocally against Citizens United.
My guess is that were the option to file suit and request FISA records not available to the ACLU or Google under their First Amendment rights (because, say, the anti-CU crusade had been successful), these corporate entities would be re-thinking free speech as it relates to groups of people and perhaps being vocal about their position. But they’d likely never admit that it was a deviation from the position they held before.