Let’s Hear It for the Little Guy . . . Oh Hell, Let’s Hear It for MontanaPosted: January 3, 2012
From the land of the Ponderosa Pine, from the state where the official flower is bitterroot [oh, how appropriate], we have the first challenge to SCOTUS’s reprehensible 2010 decision in Citizens United. From the Daily Agenda:
The Montana Court vigorously upheld the state’s right to regulate how corporations can raise and spend money after a secretive Colorado corporation, Western Tradition Partnership, and a Montana sportsman’s group and local businessman sued to overturn a 1912 state law banning direct corporate spending on electoral campaigns.
What does this mean? A first shot across the bow to one of the most contentious Supreme Court decisions in the last decade, a decision that has flooded elections with corporate money and influence and threatens to undermine the very nature and foundation of our democratic electoral processes.
There are national movements afoot, calls for Constitutional Amendments to remove the corrosive effects of corporate money and influence through Dylan Ratigan’s political action group. Bernie Sanders and his pragmatic Yankee constituents in Vermont are working to the same end. I reported before the holiday that Tammy Baldwin, House Rep from WI, introduced a resolution calling for aggressive investigation and prosecution of TBTF banks involved in the housing debacle. At last look, Baldwin had attracted 70 cosponsors to the proposed legislation. There’s a ‘fight ‘em on the beaches’ spirit rising on the wind. It’s a good sign.
And now Montana has entered the fray, where the State Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to allow direct spending in state electoral campaigns.
This case wended its way through the judicial process and the decision to uphold the 100-year old state ban was ultimately supported in a 5-4 decision last Friday. John Bonifaz spokesman for Free Speech For People, a group pushing to overturn the Citizens United decision, said in a statement:
With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy.
Not to get too heady about this decision [we are talking about bucking a ruling by SCOTUS, always considered The Rule of the Land], the dissenting opinion by Montana Judge Nelson, the main points picked up by Alternet, made my heart soar for its principled stand. Yes, it sounds like a contradiction because I think Citizens is an odious and destructive ruling. But so does Nelson, which he explains below. Btw, I would suggest reading the full post over at Alternet because it gives a good summary of the historical background in Montana, the reason the state ban on direct corporate funds was originally imposed and the smarmy games the lawyers [representing Western Tradition Partnership] have been playing in Montana.
But here are few of Judge Nelson’s statements pertaining to his dissent:
Nelson closed by slamming the legal theory of corporate personhood—that corporations, because they are run and owned by people, should have the same constitutional freedoms as individuals under the Bill of Rights. Corporatist judges, such as the Roberts Court, believe that corporations and people are indistinguishable under the law. In contrast, constitutional conservatives know very well that the framers of the U.S. Constitution distrusted large economic enterprises and drafted a document to protect individual businessmen, farmers and tradespeople from economic exploitation.
“While I recognize that this doctrine is firmly entrenched in law,” Nelson began, “I find the concept entirely offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited liability investment vehicles for business. 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.”
As Nelson said, ending his dissent, “the [U.S.] Supreme Court has spoken. It has interpreted the protections of the First Amendment vis-a-vis corporate political speech. Agree with its decision or not, Montana’s judiciary and elected officers are bound to accept and enforce the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s ruling…”
This is what it means to stand on principle, even when you vehemently disagree. It’s not a matter of stretching out and letting the 18-wheeler have its way. This is an honorable dissent, one to be proud of because it’s firmly entrenched in the American tradition.
So while Michelle Bachmann awaits a miracle and we’re inundated with the results of today’s Ugly Contest think about Judge Nelson’s stand and words.
I don’t know about you but I’m ready to kiss a cowboy!