The Locker Room

Do Corporations Have First Amendment Rights?

Posted by Daren Bakst at 10:53 AM

After the Citizens United opinion, individuals opposed to political speech make the absurd argument that corporations aren't people and therefore don't have free speech rights.

John Hood discussed this issue Monday in his Daily Journal column.

Let's take this step by step:

1) Are corporations people?  Answer: No

OK, we are all in agreement with that.  Now let's turn to the next question.

2) Do corporations have First Amendment rights?  Answer: Yes

As a matter of law, the United States Supreme Court has long-held that corporations have First Amendment rights.  There's nothing new about this concept.

Here's why corporations have First Amendment rights:  Corporations are nothing more than associations of individuals.  As an individual, we can express our views, and within association we also can express our views. 

In fact, people on their own have little ability to have their voice heard.  This is why we have grassroots groups, trade associations and other similar organizations to bring people together to have their views heard through a collective voice.  This is critical to our democracy.

Let's apply the assumption that corporations shouldn't have First Amendment rights.  This would mean that groups like the Sierra Club, the ACLU, and NRA had no free speech rights.  The New York Times Company and other media corporations would have no right to express their views. 

All of these entities are corporations no different than Exxon or General Electric.  For some reason, I doubt the anti-First Amendment crowd wants to ban the political speech of the Sierra Club.

I'm sure the pro-censorship crowd right now will be thinking, but, Exxon is a for-profit corporation and the ACLU isn't.  This though has nothing to do with the argument that corporations have no free speech rights-- it is completely irrelevant.

Do we also prohibit partnerships, unions, and unincorporated associations from engaging in political speech?  We should, by the logic of the anti-free speech crowd.  They aren't individuals either but instead different forms of associations.  By their logic, only individuals in their individual capacity can engage in political speech.

By the way, if I go with their logic, I don't have the right to post this blog because I am doing so in my capacity as an employee of the John Locke Foundation (a nonprofit corporation).  If I bought my own blog and posted these thoughts, then that would be fine.

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