By Radhika Balakrishnan and James Heintz, Huffington Post
This January the U.S. Supreme Court issued a shattering ruling that will intensify corporate influence in our democracy to an unprecedented degree. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled that government restrictions on corporate election spending are unconstitutional because such restrictions violated corporations’ right to free speech as set out in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. In effect, the Court was evoking a core civil right to advance corporate power. This is a dangerous precedent, one that will undermine the obligation of the government to respect and protect human rights by giving corporations full reign to advance their own interests in the democratic – yet increasingly plutocratic – United States.
The idea that corporations have the same rights as you and me comes from a Supreme Court decision over 120 years ago – Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) – the focus of which was whether railroads could deduct their debts from the value of their property for tax purposes. The Supreme Court laid down a much broader ruling, effectively stating that corporations should enjoy the same equal protections under the law as individuals. Equal protection under the law was spelled out in the 14th Amendment which was adopted following the Civil War. The original motivation for the amendment had little to do with advancing corporate influence. It overturned the Dred Scott decision (in which slaves were denied citizenship) and laid the groundwork for ending segregation in the U.S. and subsequent civil rights laws.