Chick-fil-A and Citizens United


The essence of Fang’s argument is this: it’s not merely that Chick-fil-A has a President who expressed anti-gay views. If that’s all it was, says Fang, then he “would agree” that they have the right to do business without being punished by city officials. But, he argues, this business — a corporation — donates money to conservative political groups which Fang dislikes. He then reasons: since corporations are not persons, they have no Constitutional rights and can therefore be punished for their political activism without running afoul of the free speech guarantee in the First Amendment:

Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s family manages a charity called the WinShape Foundation, which dispenses millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations, including Focus on the Family. Where does that money come from? According to tax disclosures, the WinShape Foundation received $8,067,161 from Chick-Fil-A corporation and $11.5 million from CFA Properties, a corporate affiliate of Chick-Fil-A registered in Delaware in 2010.

If a corporation uses its general treasury funds to finance political advocacy, does that mean any politician that takes action against that corporation in response to that advocacy is violating the First Amendment? It’s a question that comes down to whether you believe corporations have rights akin to human beings.

Leave aside the fact that all 9 justices of the Supreme Court — from the most liberal to the most conservative — believe, and in Citizens United said, that corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment, and that restrictions on how they spend their money for political advocacy can violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

As Justice John Paul Stevens, writing on behalf of the liberal dissenters in that case, wrote (emphasis added): “of course . . . speech does not fall entirely outside the protection of the First Amendment merely because it comes from a corporation,” and ”no one suggests the contrary“ (the debate in Citizens United was not whether corporations have First Amendment free speech rights — everyone on the Court agreed they do — the question was whether it was Constitutionally permissible to limit those free speech rights in order to achieve a compelling state interest). The notion that Citizens United turned on whether corporations are “persons,” and that the majority and dissent disagreed on this, is pure and total myth.

There is probably no court decision that has been more misrepresented and misunderstood than Citizens United. Let me see if I can explain it in simple terms.

1. People have constitutional rights.

2. Corporations are associations of people (just like unions, advocacy groups, clubs and political parties).

3. Associations of people maintain the constitutional rights of the individual members.

What throws people off is the phrase “corporations are people.” Obviously a corporation is not a human being. It is a business entity. But as a business entity it can, under the law, do many of the things that people can do, like enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and own property.

BTW – All the major newspapers and news networks are corporations. They still enjoy freedom of the press, don’t they?

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20 Responses to Chick-fil-A and Citizens United

  1. myiq2xu says:

    A corporation cannot be convicted of a crime, but it can be fined and its officers and employees can be sent to jail.

  2. angienc says:

    But as a business entity it can, under the law, do many of the things that people can do, like enter into contracts, sue and be sued, and own property.

    Exactly. Plus, corporations are regulated & taxed by the government. To argue corporations should not be allowed to make political donations out of corporate funds is akin to arguing for taxation without representation.

    And btw, the “legal fiction”* that corporations are “persons” under the law has been around since before this country was founded — all the way back to the English universities (the first corporations).

    *I’m loathe to use the words “legal fiction” because I’m sure that the same people who fail to understand that if a corporation isn’t considered a person under the law it would be unable to enter into contracts, be sued, etc. will see the word “fiction” and completely (or deliberately) misunderstand it.

  3. HELENK says:

    since he has a problem with the owner of Chick-fil and his donations, does he have a problem with liberal foundations giving grants to newspaper corporations to keep them afloat??

  4. threewickets says:

    These thumbs make for cluttered reading.

  5. Oswald says:

    Apparently there is some kind of “kiss-in” being staged at Chick-fil-A restaurants tomorrow. If there are any single ladies in the Central California area that would like to participate, let me know.

  6. Oswald says:

  7. Oswald says:

    Ten richest senators:

    Senator Average Net Worth

    John Kerry (D-Mass) $231,722,794
    Mark Warner (D-Va) $192,730,605
    Herb Kohl (D-Wis) $173,538,010
    Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa) $99,057,011
    Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) $85,572,116
    Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) $73,151,590
    Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) $69,046,622
    Bob Corker (R-Tenn) $59,550,022
    James E. Risch (R-Idaho) $54,088,026
    Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) $27,213,024

  8. Mary says:

    I don’t remember Barak Obama or Rahm Emmanuel objecting to huge corporate donations when the recipients were the Obama campaign.

    Pu-lease. Eyes are brown. We know why. Cut the crap. Give it a rest. We’re not as stupid as you think we are, Obama boys.

  9. yttik says:

    I’m going to vehemently disagree with this post, but first myiq is going to have to write a thesis and cite several sources so I have some material to work with.

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