Archive for the ‘Lessig’ Category

Problems with "Presidents Day" by Tom Eddlem at; but let’s not just "restore Congress," but amend Constitution to limit the federal government

February 15th, 2010 No comments

I encourage readers to take a look at the excellent essay by Thomas R. Eddlem, Down With the Presidency! A President’s Day Message, now up at

I quote first a few key portions, and then note my further thoughts.

But the role of the president under the U.S. Constitution is not to make laws. It is simply to execute the laws passed by Congress. Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution begins: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Since the Constitution mandates that “all” law-making powers reside in the Congress, none are left for the president. The president’s job is that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” under Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Constitutionally speaking, the president was designed by the founders to be nothing more than the errand-boy of Congress.

Obama won’t be the first to take us from the “rule of law” to “rule by one man.” The Bush and Clinton administrations paved the way for unconstitutional executive orders. Clinton advisor Paul Begala told the New York Times of Clinton’s executive orders: “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool.”

President Bush and his neo-conservative theoreticians were even worse, as they posited the idea that the president was above all law. Former Bush Assistant Attorney General John Yoo’s recent book Crisis and Command contends presidential powers are unlimited by any law: “The executive was, rather, the servant of necessity, bound to act in accordance with, in the absence of, or in extraordinary emergencies, in defense of the republic, even contrary to regularly constituted law.”

This is the authoritarian personality long championed by both much of the Democratic leadership on the “left” and all of the neo-conservative Republicans on the “right.” Neo-conservatives like John Yoo explicitly endorse the idea of an omnipotent presidency that erases all the rights of the people. In his wordy and overpriced book, Crisis and Command, John Yoo claims the Constitution created a president with unlimited powers. The Constitution of the founders, Yoo wrote, “did not carefully limit the executive power, as [it] did with the legislative, because they understood that they could not see the future.”  …

This is what the modern presidency has become, a new Caesar whose powers are without limit.

Unfortunately the national leadership of the Republican Party has bought wholly into Yoo’s argument that government gives out rights instead of God, and that government ought not to “give” rights to people we don’t like. … 

It’s true that the average American Fox-servative remains ignorant of these facts, because we won’t hear the details of tortured innocents like Maher Arar, Khalid el-Masri, Omar Deghayes or the Tipton Three on the Fox News Channel. Nor will the Fox News Network tell its audience that the Obama administration has openly ratified all of these Bush-era attacks on the Bill of Rights except for the torture. Fox-servatives love the dictatorial state; they just wish it were run by the party of Pompey instead of the party of Caesar.


All of the really bad ideas that the federal government initiated throughout our nation’s history originated with the office of president: This includes most of the wars as well as warrantless surveillance, detention without trial, torture and all of the socialist legislation since the New Deal. Each was only adopted by the president pushing Congress, or more recently, by a president ignoring Congress altogether.

The presidency itself needs to be knocked down from its perch. The only thing that will save the American republic is a renewed focus upon the Congress and cutting down the presidency to size. The founding fathers designed the legislature – Congress – to be the dominant branch of a very small federal government.

My additional thoughts? I copy them from an email that I sent to Tom Eddlem (links added and typos fixed, nacherly):

Tom, great, perceptive piece at LewRockwell.
However, you missed that officially it’s still “Washington’s Birthday”, a focus that would help further illustrate how the Unitary President/CIC role has run out of control. Washington – who could have had much more power and refused – would certainly shudder at the “liberties taken” by later presidents (double entendre intended).
Also, why no mention of the obvious need to breathe more life into our federal system? One way to limit the power of the President (and Congress & Supreme Court) is to restore it to the states.

Those now pushing for a Constitutional Convention – from Larry Lessig seeking to limit corporate influence on elections and on legislation, to those who want to ensure that only people (not corporations) have Constitutional rights [and fix the glaring legislative error by the Supreme Court in granting Constitutional “free speech” rights to corporation (which are THINGS, not people)], and to those seeking to limit Commerce Clause and restore the 9th and 10th Amendments – could use more cheerleaders!

Not criticism, but food for thought.

Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

February 13th, 2010 No comments

“Whhhaaat the heck is TT up NOW?” I can hear some of you asking yourselves. Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, the movie Avatar and climate?

Just what elusive illusions am I alluding to here? (Stop playing, you say.) Well, brace yourself, and bear with me.

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a post up regarding a interesting recent piece by Bill Gates on how to address climate issues (I will address Gates’ piece separately). The comment section at Roger’s predictably fell into into the usual patterns of questioning climate science, and a mutual questioning of motives and rationality. I just happened to run into it, and was moved to try to post a few thoughts there.

Libertarians ought to understand why suspicions run rampant on climate issues – even as they can’t seem to get past it (despite my annoying, incessant and level-headed ravings). But many others are so wrapped up in Climate KombatTM that they never think to even to question WHY – why all of the hostility, why all of the circling of wagons, and why the lack of interest in examining root problems and possible win-win approaches?

Well, that’s what my “Avatar” reference is intended to shorthand (pardon an archaic expression; maybe I shouldn’t telegraph my antiquity like this!): that movie was all about thefttheft that we can see all around us even today as I have noted in a number of posts (even as we may be blind to those that advantage us) –  group advantage, and communal responses to threats. Communal responses involve perceiving threats and banding together with brothers to defend all that is good, sacred, holy and OURS. This, I posit, is not only instinctive and reflexive, but EXACTLY what the climate discussion is about, on many levels.

It’s just that the disputants have entirely different views on who is trying to steal what from whom, and what or who is the threat, on who is an enemy, who is a brother, what is to be defended, and on strategy and tactics (as well as how to be advance personal interests).

I penned a few thoughts at Roger’s (I note that both Roger and his father. climate scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. , are in the thick of the climate wars, their own positions frequently being misunderstood in the fog of war). Being a bit inspired and prolix, the Muses ran a bit long. Roger is pretty good at letting comments through but I thought I post a copy here; perhaps you will be amused.

Here is what I tried to post (cleaned up slightly and with additional links and emphasis), in response to several who said to the effect, “Why should we agree to anything, until it is established to our satisfaction that CO2 reduction is important?“, and to others who questioned the motivations of Roger and others:

Those who do not agree now – with either the AGW thesis/science or the good faith, motives, intelligence or rationality of those who profess concern about a clearly changing climate and about whether man’s activities pose serious threats to human welfare and to things
that we value – still have lots to gain from plenty of win-win policies, policies that
would advance the interests of those who profess to love free markets but that are now just sitting about unused because practically everyone is too busy fighting, vilifying and mistrusting to actually step back from the emotional rush of partisan battle, sit back and to
exchange their armor and weapons for thinking caps (more on
these policies at end of this comment).

political economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us that one sine qua non for solving
any commons problem is TRUST [see my post here].

that lack of that trust – nay, distrust and active hostility – are what
characterize our “discussions” on modern-day politics, and especially
climate change (the “our” in this case being a complex one at many

DISTRUST is the natural product of many factors:

– the
lack of property rights in the atmosphere & of any legal recourse by
individuals against GHG emitters/albedo changers
, which together mean that –
unlike for other resources that can be bought, sold and husbanded – the
voluntary actions of individuals and firms via market exchanges simply are not
functioning, thus forcing climate concerns – and scientists and this discussion
– into the political realm;

 – in
the US, both parties have grossly MIS-governed and abused the public trust, via
political pandering, grasping for power at all costs (cynically sowing division
and cheapening discourse by selling war, hatred and suspicion, corruptly
selling favors to the highest bidders, and simply managing resources
incompetently). As a result, I think many people rightly feel that the US
government generally DOES NOT DESERVE our trust (this sentiment can be seen not
only in the TeaParty movement, but in calls by the likes of Larry Lessig for a
Constitutional Convention
to fix our corrupt, broken political system);

 – as
has been the case since corporations were created as the faceless profit-making
of wealthy investors whose liability for the damage they do and risks
that they shift to others is limited by statute (, those corporations that have
licenses to pollute under current law and whose climate-risk generating
activities are now FREE and unregulated work hard to protect their favored status
(via behind-the-scenes influence-buying of politicians and
“free-market” pundit/voice-pieces, and deliberate PR
smokescreen/mis-direction campaigns designed to GENERATE mistrust)

likewise, other corporations/investors have been busy working to buy climate
legislation that will help to put money in their pockets
– while those who act
as spokesmen have not been voluntarily taking actions that show they put their
money (and life-style) where their mouth

 – most
of the science has been funded by governments
, which makes it easier for
skeptics to dismiss it – and to ignore all of the sophisticated private
institutions and corporations that now strongly agree with the
(viz., notably virtually all oil & gas majors and
virtually all insurers);

 – the
fact that the chief “solutions” proposed by our Western governments
are coercive and ham-handed
, would serve to further drive basic manufacturing
to developing countries
that care even less than we do about respecting
human/property rights, would give further give domestic industry rights to
behave in ways that are seen as harmful, would provide benefits to a host of
favorite insiders while shifting costs to middle and lower income classes
, is being agreed behind closed doors (and written up
drafted by lobbyists in mind-mumbingly long and opaque legislation) and our leaders lack the moral and political courage to be straight-forward and transparent about the need and purposes of the legislative/regulatory actions;

Mistrust is not only NATURAL, it’s something that we LOVE to do; there is an
undeniable human penchant for viewing issues in a tribal, “us against
them” manner, which reflects a natural cognitive conservatism that means
we subconsciously ignore information that contradicts our pre-existing mental
map of reality, and to a strong tendency to reflexively support our tribal
brothers and “comrades” and to defend our pre-existing views against
what we tend to see as “attacks” by “enemies”;

– this
leads to group-think, black & white views, hostility, self-justification and to strawmen that
ignores the real issues
: you know, “they have a religion”, we are
right and act in good faith, they are stupid, irrational, are evil and want to
destroy all we hold dear, versus capitalism is evil, those against cap and trade are
all pawns, of Big Oil and a host of other mantras regarding “truths” that respective group-thinks requires its members to hold as “self-evident”;

– while our moral senses are essential for managing our in-group interactions, unfortunately that lends itself both to moral outrage and to intolerance of the moral preachings and inconsistencies of others;

 – the
“climate” is enormously complex, will never be fully understood or
predictable,  the changes that we
are  forcing in it cannot be simply and
convincing demonstrated or understood by anyone
, the system has many
inputs/outputs and displays tremendous variability, has great inertia that is
played out on scales of centuries, 
millennia and eons, and we have NO OTHER EARTHS to run ANY independently
verifiable “TESTS” on … just a number of computer models – again,
funded by governments, and with innards none of us has any real ability to
verify, much less understand;

finally, as climate change is a global issue, it cannot be solved unilaterally
by ANY single individual, group, community, corporation or government/polity;
the “community” that must address it is the community of nations, the leaders and citizens of which all having a welter of differing interests and priorities.

To be flip – Trust
me; it’s natural for you NOT to trust me! Don’t we ALL understand this? (Roger,
I’m pretty sure you – and Joe Romm – know what I mean.)

But the high we get from self-righteousness and group struggle is such an easy
evil, such an addictive self-drug.

it is a clear political tactic by many on the climate issue to treat it as a war, and
to deliberately sow mistrust and misinformation,
with the intention either to
defend turf previously purchased from government or to use government to cram
down preferred solutions. But I repeat myself.

Let me
end by noting that

those who are concerned about climate change risks would do well by
fostering not anger but trust, and by seeking to use hammers only to build

those who are concerned chiefly with the mis-use of government might do well to
re-examine how government has already been misused, and explore whether there
are ways to harness the passionate “delusions” of evil/stoopid
enviro-fascists to actually achieve goals that self-professed market cultists
(I’m one!) ought to desire

 – I
have humbly picked up my own hammer and started an exploratory
“task-force” of one, to look at the ways that corporate interests
have already mis-used government to lot in economic rigidity and market share,
and stand in the way of economic freedom and the massive wave of innovation,
investment and wealth-creation that would surely result if existing blockages
were removed. My
chief thoughts are here, intended initially as a plea to fellow libertarians
(who are deeply distrusting of enviro-facists like me who hope to disguise
their nefarious goals by falsely putting on libertarian clothing):

A few
related thoughts at (libertarians/climate) and  (delusion).


Readers, thanks for your indulgence!


Speech and Sociopaths: Does it make sense to collapse, for Constitutional and legal purposes, the distinctions between human beings and corporate "persons"?

February 11th, 2010 No comments

Further to my preceding posts on corporate “free speech”, let me copy here for those interested some parts of a post by legal blogger/law prof Kimberly Hauser, and excerpts of the comment thread (emphasis added).

Says Hauser:

Justice Kennedy stated in the majority opinion: “If the First
Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing
citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in free
speech.”  Hold on, Emily Litella, since when is a corporation an
“association of citizens.”  The last time I checked, they were
state-chartered entities organized for the purpose of operating a
business, making a profit, and sheltering the organizers of the
business from personal liability.  I don’t think anyone would mistake
one for an “associations of citizens.” 
This decision is a travesty on
a number of levels, but as I discussed with my classes today,
corporations are not humansThomas Jefferson stated: “A bill of
rights is what the people are entitled to against
every government on earth, .  .  .”  These rights are human rights,
essential to our type of government.  They should not be cheapened by
their extension to corporations. 
(I do understand that corporations
have been given “rights” over the years by the Supreme Court, starting
with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company.  I just don’t agree with that line of decisions.  And while I agree with Stevens’s Dissent in Citizens, I don’t agree with his adherence to the “corporations are people too” position.)

From the comment thread:

… The root of the problem is that corporations are divorced from their
owners, who have been given a grant of limited liability for the risks
they shift to society, a cloak of anonymity by which they can behave
irresponsibility and seek favors from government, as well as unlimited
lives and deep pockets to make persistent efforts to corrupt.

on February 7, 2010 at 4:27 am | Lampie The Clown

… You mentioned the Santa Clara case as the start of
corporate personhood, without mentioning that it was sleight of hand
and not a real ruling on the subject. That’s exactly what the clerk was
counting on, and why it worked. Just thought I’d tell the rest of the

Actually, long before the Santa Clara case, the legal fiction of
corporations as people was established to include five legal rights—the
right to a common treasury or chest (including the right to own
property), the right to a corporate seal (i.e., the right to make and
sign contracts), the right to sue and be sued (to enforce contracts),
the right to hire agents (employees) and the right to make by-laws
(self-governance). They were given the rights they needed to do the
only thing they were designed to do. Conduct business.

They are amoral, profits and self interest as highest priority are
mandated by law to be part of their design, and they have limited
liability. This gives them the “personality” of a sociopath, and makes
them unsuited by design to using free speech responsibly.

With the current design, the only solution I can think of is to have
Asimov’s “three laws of robotics” made part of all corporate charters. ….


One commenter defended the Court with a straight face:

Corporation IS an “association of citizens”– those citizens are the
shareholders, i.e., owners of said corporation, who associate ever so
often (annual meetings, and other special occasions)

And as for objections to “corporate personhood”, as a person is
created by human parents and grows in a mother’s womb, so too is a
corporation. It is created by the (human) people who sign its original
charter, and the “womb” that allows the corporation to be ‘born’ is
that of the [government] agency that grants corporate charters. The difference
between the two different types of “births” are, in my opinion,

(Eventually, human embryos won’t have to be implanted into a person
in order to be born– so the “birth from a human” objection will cease
to have merit.)

As for Lampie’s argument that corporations have “the personality of
a ’sociopath’, (which) makes them unsuited by design to using free
speech responsibly”, this argument that discriminates against REAL
sociopaths (who as far as I know, STILL have their free speech rights
unencumbered by the SCOTUS decision or any comments you’d make to the
contrary). Sociopaths have rights, too!

My sense of humor is a bit underdeveloped, so at first I ignored the “sociopath” assertion and penned a straight response regarding the “association” assertion:

Shawn, several points:

while real people do associate to form a corporation, a corporation
remains a legal fiction created by governments, not the people
“associating” with it. It is legally separate and distinct from them and their
ownership right is considered property.

– Since a corporation is peoples’ property, those [people who own it] have
Constitutional rights to make sure their property is not unjustly or
without due process taken by government.

Other forms of property, like human slaves, were not considered
citizens and did not have Constitutional rights, including a right to
If slaves and inanimate things couldn’t/can’t speak for Constitutional
purposes, neither does it make any sense to argue that corporations – as
opposed to the people in them – can “speak” under the First Amendment.

– Further, it is crystal-clear that the Founding Fathers hated
corporations, and the ability of states to closely restrict them and to
impose conditions on the privileges and rights they received was
uncontested. It is a radical and profoundly non-originalistic step to
conclude, as the Roberts/Scalia court did, that the Founding Fathers
intended [in the Bill of Rights] to provide Constitutional speech rights to corporations.

Then, getting the joke about sociopaths, I couldn’t resist making a didactic point:

presumably your comment is wholly tongue-in-cheek, but let me note that
we hunt down and lock away (and even execute) sociopaths – thus
depriving them not merely of their speech, but of their ability to harm
us and even their existence in some cases.

If corporations are by nature sociopathic, then we by all means ought to do the same.

Note that we don’t need to lock up corporations; we can find various
ways to change their nature, control their bad behavior and limit their
ability to hurt us – the simplest way, of course, would be to simply
eliminate the limited liability of their shareholders, who would then
have every incentive to control what their [not-so-]little Frankensteins do.

Historic Times: A libertarian view on what liberal Larry Lessig has missed regarding our broken, corrupt government

February 10th, 2010 No comments

I won’t reprise the essay referred to in my preceding post, by which Lawrence Lessig presents his view of our current problems (much of which I agree with, including his conclusion that the “conservative” Roberts Supreme Court five-Justice bloc has acted with considerable activism in overturning centuries of law-making, in a manner that cannot be seen as consistent with any “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, and that fruits and prospects of such activism are likely to frustrate further legislative attempts at fixes).

While I agree with Lessig’s call for a movement for the Several States to convene a Constitutional Convention, let me note that his analysis certainly has some serious short-comings and blind spots. In my view:

(1) Lessig completely
misses the real root of corruption, which is the grant by states to corporation owners of legal entity status in which owners had no liability for acts of the corporation (unless they specifically directed such acts), which grant was initially jealously guarded and carefully
The trickle from this hole in the dike became a flood,
as wealthy investors – eager to fund risky businesses that might give
them great profits while shifting risks to unconsenting third parties –
pressured state lawmakers for a snowballing liberalization – which saw the removal of limits on corporate purposes, corporate life, and corporate ability to own other corporations. As I have discussed repeatedly, the result of the multiplication of
activities, power and negative impacts of limited liability corporations (including their
successful pressuring of courts to eliminate common law tort doctrines that once strongly
protected the rights of property owners, in favor of a social utility balancing) has been a corresponding rise
in demands by citizens that law-makers act to constrain corporate activities, which in turn has produced a steadily escalation in the fight over the wheel of government.

(2) As a
result of this oversight, Lessig fails to consider (i) whether the
states can provide any check on corporate influence via their power to
condition the grant of incorporation/foreign corporation status
of a Constitutional Amendment eliminating corporate “personhood” for
civi rights purposes), instead suggesting that Congress might insist
that corporations engaged in interstate commerce be federally
incorporated and limited and (ii) whether states and federal
governments might regulate BETTER by easing the regulation of
partnerships, similar associations and corporation that have unlimited
, and whose owners have direct incentives to make sure
their executives do not engage the business in activities that generate
a significant risk of liaibilty to others

Lessig ignores that the reason corporations and labor pour money into buying
favor in Washington is because the federal government is too busy
selling favors
, and such investments pay off – particularly where a
single party gains monopoly control over the pork spigots. Lessig seems blind to considerations of federalism and limited
government, in favor of the premise that anything the people in Congress assembled want to do is okay
, as long wealthy corporations aren’t able to spend money on swaying the election of Congresscritters or buying votes, and if retired Congresscritters are not allowed to pasture too close to Congress..

(4)  As a result, Lessig
fails whether rent-seeking can be checked in part by restoring the once vital
check and balance provided by a vibrant role of states under the
originally envisioned federal system
. For the purposes of restoring power to states, various conservatives have recently been suggesting (i) a reinvigoration of the moribund Tenth Amendment,
which states that non-delegated powers are reserved to the states and
the people (the Supreme Court assisted the federal government in
killing this part of the Bill of Rights via expansive interpretations
of the authority of Congress under the general welfare clause, the
Commerce Clause and the 14th Amendment) and (ii) repeal the requirement of direct elections of Senators under the 17th Amendment, which is argued to have better enabled election pandering and influence by corporations and by national parties.

(5) Finally, Lessig misses that the real reason why the conservative block on the
Roberts Court struck down limits on direct corporate spending
political campaigns
(speech is wide open; direct donations to campaigns remain limited, but
will eventually fall on the corporations=persons doctrine) is that the Supreme Court had gradually allowed a two-part corporate speech structure to grow, with speech by “media” corporations being unlimited
(“freedom of the press” getting a separate mention in the First
Amendment), but political speech by other corporations being heavily
by Congress.

This very imbalanced structure was long resented
by the right, due to the perception that the dull, corporate,
conglomerate”MSM” had been “captured” by ideological enemies on the
left. Resentments began to run the other way with the establishment of
FOX and various corporate-funded “thinktank” groups by the right (which seems heavily invested in the idea #CorpSpeak without, apparently, making any examination of the premises that inanimate legal fictions much different from other human associations have rights to speak and influence to government), but the Roberts court felt that the influence of the “liberal” corporate media was still too strong, and decided simply to do its best to bring down the entire edifice of “media speech” versus #CorpSpeak distinctions.
The Roberts Court appears to have been too timid or incurious to
address the fundamental problems relating to speech by inanimate
institutions with far greater power and far less community check than
individuals, and so blinked at that opportunity, instead opting for
the far lesser but still extremely activist step of taking a demolition
ball to legal restrictions on competition in the flow of ideas from corporations

For the curious reader, I note again my preceding posts on  corporate “free speech”.

Those who want to get further stirred up might want to give another
listen to the new music video Anthem of what our Founding Fathers said
to King George:  It’s Too Late to Apologize.

Historic Times: Larry Lessig calls for Constitutional Convention to fix our corrupt, broken government

February 10th, 2010 No comments

Lessig doesn’ expressly say it, but we also need to rein in the “self-evident”, “unalienable rights” of all corporations

Actually, the last quip in the title are my words, not Lessig’s.

Last week, I noted Harvard law prof Lawrence Lessig’s earlier rebuttal to Glenn Greenwald regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to overthrow centuries of American law and jurisprudence on the rights of corporations and to enshrine corporations – legal fictions created by states and with powers very severely restricted at the time the Constitution was negotiated and ratified by Americans who had recently rebelled against British company-structured colonies and monopolies – as entitled to “speech” under the Bill of Rights on the same basis as men, and made the following observation:

As an aside, other, non-corporation forms of property that had real human bodies – such as slaves – were clearly NOT afforded Constitutional rights of any sort at the time of the Revolution/Bill of Rights; freed slaves as they became citizens and non-citizen Chinese coolies received Constitutional protection ONLY when the Fourteenth Amendment was expressly adopted to extend “privileges and immunities” to citizens and “due process” and “equal protection” to “persons”.

It was this reference to “persons” that smart/prevaricating lawyers for extremely influential railroad corporations were able to persuade a sympathetic Supreme Court – in unargued dicta by a Justice and recorded in headnotes by a Court’s Reporter who were both former railroad lawyers – to the effect that either (i) the 14th Amendment-adopting states had all intended to mean that it would be the federal government, and not the states creating corporations or giving them permission to do business in-state, who would determine whether domestic or out-of-state corporations received “equal” protection of state laws as did citizens or (ii) that such was the hidden purpose of some railroad-friendly drafters of the Amendment, and that such hidden purpose should govern in interpreting the Amendment.

Is there any surprise that most of the subsequent 14th amendment case law is about how monied corporations vigorously pursued and advanced their interests, while blacks and foreign residents continued to get short shrift (“separate but equal”) from unconcerned federal judges?

Now, the thoughtful and highly regarded  Lawrence Lessig has written a must-read article in The Nation; “How to Get Our Democracy Back; If You Want Change, You Have to Change Congress” (February 3; February 22 print edition).

I won’t reprise the essay here — I have a few comments on what I see as serious shortcomings and blind spots in Lessig’s analysis, but the draft of these grows long (like my aside above) – rent-seeking; corporations; religion; limited liability; Constitution, speech, states, federalism – so I will post them separately.

Lessig’s article is a key starting point and long enough, though I will advise/remind the curious reader of my preceding posts on  corporate “free speech”..

In calling for amendments to the Constitution, Lessig joins others that have come to the same conclusion years ago, such as “whacko”, snivelling local communities/enviro-commie fascists (snark!) seeking to control the impacts of large multinational corporations on local communities and resources, and some state-righters seeking to breathe some meaning back into the Tenth Amendment and the moribound body of federalism. More on this later.

Those who want to get further stirred up might want to give another listen to the new music video Anthem of what our Founding Fathers said to King George:  It’s Too Late to Apologize.

Free speech 2: Finally, someone else – Larry Lessig – gets it on state-created corporations and speech!

February 3rd, 2010 No comments

Further to my preceding post on speech and corporations, I highly recommend Lawrence Lessig`s insightful short piece, “The Principled and Pure Court? A Reply to Glenn Greenwald” (HuffPo, January 27).

For those who haven`t seen it yet, I take the liberty of quoting liberally (emphasis added):

Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald
is just about the most persistent and effective critic of money in
politics today. He is among the least starry-eyed reporters studying
Congress. But his essay defending the Court’s judgment in Citizens United would have been better had he sprinkled a bit of the skepticism he has for Congress on the words penned by the Court….

The First Amendment, Greenwald tells us, is an absolute. It applies
not to “persons”; it “simply bans Congress from making any laws
abridging freedom of speech.” This law plainly banned these entities —
whether persons or not — from a freedom of speech. Ergo, this law is,
and should have been found to be, unconstitutional.

Sounds good. Sounds principled. Sounds refreshingly different from
anything else that happens within the reach of DC (i.e., good and

But apply that same test to the following (not so hypothetical) free
speech case: A bunch of doctors practice in family planning clinics.
The government issues a rule that says certain doctors in certain
clinics are not allowed to discuss abortion as a method of family
planning. They can talk about abstinence. Or condoms. But they are not
allowed to advise their pregnant patients that they have the liberty to
abort their fetus.

Sounds like — under the First Amendment Greenwald describes — a
simple case. Whether or not doctors are persons (and at least some are
just mere mortals), they should have the freedom to speak. Advising
someone about a legal medical procedure is among the core freedoms one
would expect a Free Speech Clause to serve.

Yet in 1991, in an opinion by Chief Justice Robert’s former boss, Chief Justice Rehnquist, in the case of Rust v. Sullivan,
the Court found no First Amendment problem at all with the government’s
restriction on doctors’ speech. Indeed, it wasn’t even a difficult case
according to the Court (“no question but that the statutory prohibition
contained in § 1008 is constitutional.”)

Why? How? Well the doctors at issue worked in family planning
clinics that had received at least some of their funds from the
government. And in exchange for that benefit, the government was free
to gag the doctors however it wished.
The doctors were free of course
to work in a family planning clinic not funded at all by the government
(for of course, there are plenty of those) (that’s a joke). But so long
as the doctors take this benefit from the government, they’ve got to
live by the rules of the government, at least so long as those rules
serve some legitimate state end.

So how is this case related to Citizens United? For the law wasn’t
applying exclusively to entities that had received something from the
government. It was applying to all corporations.

But of course, corporations do receive a gift from the government.
The government limits the legal liability of investors in that
corporation in exchange for their risking their capital to spur
innovation and growth. That benefit is significant. And the First
Amendment question is whether in granting that benefit, the state would
be free to limit the political advocacy that corporations engage in.

It seems astonishing to imagine the state couldn’t. State law has
historically had wide freedoms to condition the corporate form as they
wished. This fact has led some, including my colleague, Sina Kian, to
argue that Citizens United is less than people think. That the decision
notwithstanding, states could build this limit into their corporate
charters. Or that maybe even Congress could induce states to do the
same. The question then would be the reason the government had for
demanding the entity give up this liberty in exchange for the corporate
form. Traditionally, the burden of that question is the easiest for the
government to meet — is there any state interest at all?
In Rust, the
interest was that that government didn’t like abortion.

But I agree with Greenwald that there is something unseemly in the
idea that the government could restrict the speech of a class because
it doesn’t like the speech of that class.

Yet this is the most confused part of the commentary (and reaction)
of most to this kind of regulation. If the government’s reason for
silencing corporations is that they don’t like what corporations would
say — if it thinks, for example, that it would be too Republican, or
too pro-business — then that’s got to be a terrible reason for the
regulation, and we all ought to support a decision that strikes a law
so inspired.

That, however, is not the only, or the best, justification behind
the regulations at issue in Citizens United. Those rules not about
suppressing a point of view. They’re about avoiding a kind of
dependency that undermines trust in our government.
The concentrated,
and tacitly, coordinated efforts by large and powerful economic
entities — made large and powerful in part because of the gift of
immunity given by the state — could certainly help lead many to
believe “money is buying results” in Congress. Avoiding that belief —
just like avoiding the belief that money bought results on the Supreme
Court — has got to be an important and valid interest of the state.

If the Court really means to say that entities that fund or create
other entities can’t limit the power of those entities to speak — so
the government can’t stop doctors from talking about abortion, or the
IRS can’t stop non-profits from talking about politics — then we
really have crossed a Bladerunner line. For that conclusion really does
mean that these entities were “created with certain unalienable
rights,” even though they were created by a pretty pathetic creator —
the state.

My point is not that the state’s power to condition should be
unlimited. The point instead is that it’s not so simple, or absolute,
as Greenwald would have it. And given the true complexity of these
evolving and complicated doctrines, it is certainly fair to be critical
in the extreme of this decision by the Court, favoring speech that most
believe it naturally likes (unlike abortion-speak), in a decision that
ignores the judgment of Congress about the conditions under which the
integrity of that body, or any election, proceeds.

It seems to me that Lessig doesn`t go far enough, in questioning as I have all of the negative consequences of the state grant of limited liability to the owners of corporations. Surely any libertarian worth his salt should do so.

But Lessig has understated his own case: the government has a valid interest in seeking to prevent not only the appearance that “money is buying results”, but actual corruption and sweet deals as well. Surely the Constitution was not intended to let wealthy individuals to get a leg up on everyone else by laundering their speech through a company and on a tax-deductible basis.

Further, Lessig fails to noted that the Supreme Court could easily have avoided overturning laws and decades of precedents and public understanding – and could have provided much-needed clarity – by concluding that the statements coming from corporations are NOT entitled to protection as First Amendment “speech”, because corporations are legal entities and not themselves actual individuals capable of “speaking” for purposes of the First Amendment. Such a decision would leave all corporate spokesmen and shareholders bearing, like the rest of us do, personal liability and moral sanction for false or offensive speech (though insurance or indemnification by others might of course be be available).

But via the growth of concentrated power enabled by the state establishment of the corporate form, we appear to be rapidly becoming a nation a county “of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation”.

Banning corporate political speech (and campaign contributions) would dampen the rent-seeking pressures that have fuelled to the growth of the state; such steps would also invigorate public discourse – and build greater national trust – by making it clear WHO is actually doing the talking (or letting the body politic discount whenever speech is anonymous).

Mr. Lessig goes to Washington?

February 19th, 2008 No comments
Categories: Congress, copyright, Lessig Tags: