Justice Samuel Alito at the Federalist Society

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 denounceCitizens 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.

  1. William McClain

    America’s conservative justices remain some of the finest voices for modern conservatism there are. Reading the opinions of Scalia, Alito, and Thomas should be required for every conservative trying to figure out how to strongly and clearly communicate their messages.

  2. tabula rasa

    I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, but my practice has rarely caused me to delve into Supreme Court decisions, and even then not the ones we talk about on Ricochet.  I get into arcane cases dealing with the powers of the FCC and other federal agencies.

    Nonetheless, because I’m a conservative and because I care, I read the big decisions that have political and social consequences.  Thus I’ve read Citizen’s United, the Obamacare decision (which made me nauseated, except when reading the dissent), Bush v. Gore, Roe, Casey, and others.

    Justice Scalia has earned his excellent reputation.  Justice Thomas, except among the liberal punditocracy, long ago dispelled the notion that he shouldn’t be on the court. 

    Justice Alito is superb. His push-back in Obama’s State of the Union address (even though only the movement of his lips) endeared him to me.  He’s smart, thoughtful, and cares about the country and the Constitution.  Too bad he isn’t the Chief Justice.  He would be a superb one.

  3. Lavaux

    The left is shockingly ignorant of the essential things that make our economy and society work. They make the Luddites look like futurists.

    Could a business enterprise raise equity capital from disinterested investors without offering them limited liability? Not likely. So what would happen to new technologies? Many would likely never be commercially exploited, which means they wouldn’t become available to people.

    Are most charitable enterprises also legal persons? Why yes, they are. What would happen to the funds they manage if the law no longer protects them from expropriation? They’d be disaggregated and moved offshore, and the charitable work they finance would slow way down.

    Legal personhood enables the aggregation of dispersed capital in enterprises pursuing profit as well as ideal goals. Remove the legal personhood from the legal persons pursuing profit or ideal goals and capital will remain dispersed. What’s more, most of the money pursuing ideal goals in legal persons was once a donor’s profit. I can understand how a person could fail to realize this, but I can’t understand how a person who realizes this would nevertheless promote stripping business enterprises of legal personhood.

  4. Free Radical

    Interesting enough Citizens United did not sway the election.  Most corporations do not want be involved in political speech.  Why alienate 50% of your customer base?  The left’s argument against Citizens United is based on their prejudice against corporations.  They do not realize the New York Time, Washington Post, Disney (owner of ABC), GE (owner of NBC) … are all publicly trade companies.  

  5. Pejman Yousefzadeh
    C

    All of which are precisely the points my post sought to make.

    Free Radical: Interesting enough Citizens United did not sway the election.  Most corporations do not want be involved in political speech.  Why alienate 50% of your customer base?  The left’s argument against Citizens United is based on their prejudice against corporations.  They do not realize the New York Time, Washington Post, Disney (owner of ABC), GE (owner of NBC) … are all publicly trade companies.   · 5 hours ago

  6. Denver Gentleman

    Happy to say I attended the dinner. Alito was great and being surrounded by 1400 fellow Federalists was exactly what I needed to renew my resolve. Josh Blackman has another pretty good recap here: http://joshblackman.com/blog/2012/11/16/recap-of-federalist-society-30th-anniversary-gala-dinner-with-remarks-by-justice-alito-fedsoc2012/

    I like the above comments. Sorry to say an anti-Citizens ballot initiative passed in Colorado by 73%. Sad so many Coloradans, worse yet, so many Colorado Republicans are against free speech.

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