This week, the New York Times featured research by John Coates, a professor at Harvard Law School and a longtime member of Free Speech For People’s Legal Advisory Committee, on “the corporate takeover of the First Amendment.” The research stems from Free Speech For People’s November 2014 symposium at Harvard Law School on “Advancing a New Jurisprudence for American Self-Government and Democracy” (which Professor Coates helped organize). Professor Coates’s paper will be published in the symposium issue for the journal Constitutional Commentary along with other papers from the conference.
As the Times article explains:
These days, a provocative new study says, there has been a “corporate takeover of the First Amendment.” The assertion is backed by data, and it comes from an unlikely source: John C. Coates IV, who teaches business law at Harvard and used to be a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the prominent corporate law firm.
“Corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment,” Professor Coates wrote. The trend, he added, is “recent but accelerating.”
Professor Coates’s study was only partly concerned with the Supreme Court’s recent decisions amplifying the role of money in politics.
“It’s not just Citizens United,” he said in an interview, referring to the 2010 decision that allowed unlimited independent spending by corporations in elections. His study, he said, analyzed First Amendment challenges from businesses to an array of economic regulations.
The Times article shines an important light on the new scholarship that Free Speech For People is helping to catalyze and promote as a key convener of leading constitutional law professors and attorneys interested in creating new scholarship challenging the Supreme Court’s doctrines on corporate constitutional rights and political campaign fundraising and spending. (The Times article also quotes a paper submitted for the symposium issue by Professor Laurence Tribe, arguing that the nature of the Court’s error in Citizens United was not the narrow judgment on the facts of that particular case, but rather the Court’s expansive rationale and fundamental misconception of First Amendment values leading to a rigid anti-campaign finance-reform ideology.)
Stay tuned for more of the research developed from our November 2014 symposium—and for more conferences we have planned for 2015.