In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States took a particularly extreme liberty in interpreting the Constitution when the majority ruled in favor of Citizens United and deemed corporations and unions to have the same First Amendment protections as people, giving them unlimited spending ability as an exercise of free speech during political campaigns. This ruling basically paved the way for the court’s most recent decision, 5-4, in favor of Hobby Lobby, which determined that a corporation has the right not to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover the cost of contraception due to religious beliefs, concluding that corporations qualify as “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The impact of Citizens United has become more far reaching than presumably most people would have thought. From swaying political elections to circumventing laws because of religious beliefs, Citizens United has given an unsettling amount of power to just a few who run these corporations, affecting the lives of many, millions of lives, in fact. Further, it was the decision of five justices that created this ludicrous dynamic in the first place. And the hope of reversal is dismal with no sign that any of the conservative justices will step down. It’s unfortunate that justice has a political bias, especially as to those at the helm of the judicial system.
We understand that the political pendulum has swung greatly in this country and that the decisions of the Supreme Court reflect that great divide. It’s a tragedy, though, to see that for two social victories — overturning the Defense of Marriage Act deeming Prop. 8 unconstitutional as well as upholding the legality of the Affordable Care Act — we see, in one ruling, the pendulum swing in favor of the elite, giving much power to “corporations,” i.e., the decision makers (CEOs, founding partners, shareholders, etc.), impacting so many who have limited options by which to fight back. But there is hope.
Since the decision, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Oxnard City Council and, just this week, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, have made efforts to end corporate personhood by passing resolutions urging Congress to amend the Constitution. We stand by these efforts and, in particular, Williams’ ballot initiative, which would ask Californians if an amendment to overturn Citizens United and other applicable judicial precedents should be proposed by Congress. If voters approve, the California secretary of state would then take the question to Congress and the system of checks and balances — where one branch of government can balance the decision of another — could be fully implemented. In this triparte system, one branch of government, or the will of five people and their political and religious beliefs, should not have absolute power.