Justice Samuel Alito at the Federalist Society

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 17, 2012

Justice Alito made a number of comments to the Federalist Society annual dinner, which got picked up here. Part of the comments were dedicated to defending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United:

Alito said arguments can be made for overturning Citizens United, but not the popular one that boils down to one line: Corporations shouldn’t get free speech rights like a person.

“It is pithy, it fits on a bumper sticker, and in fact a variety of bumper stickers are available,” Alito told a crowd of about 1,400 at The Federalist Society’s annual dinner. He cited two: “End Corporate Personhood,” and “Life does not begin at incorporation.”

Then Alito pointed out the same people do not question the First Amendment rights of media corporations in cases like The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Pentagon papers case. If corporations did not have free speech rights, newspapers would lose such cases, he said.

Alito aded that nobody questioned whether First Amendment rights extended to the corporation that broadcast the awards speech during which Nicole Richie swore on air, an episode immortalized in Fox v Federal Communications Commission.

Alito censored himself when repeating Richie’s quote to the conservative crowd: “Have you ever tried to get cow bleep out of a Prada purse, it’s not so bleeping simple.”

Alito said the real issue is whether free speech rights “should be limited to certain preferred corporations, namely those media organizations.” And with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, the line is getting more blurry between individuals and media, he said.

This analysis is a very useful one–especially for those who like to denounce Citizens United while knowing absolutely nothing of the substance of the Court’s ruling in the case (and there are plenty such people even in the legal world!). Of note as well is the observation–which in fact, should be entirely unsurprising–that money has little influence on elections, and that Citizens United has done nothing to destroy (or even mildly harm) the foundations of republican democracy.

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