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March 24, 2015

Corporation With History Of Using Courts To Assert First Amendment Rights Decries Corporations Exercising First Amendment Rights

Because, you know, the New York Times Company (a New York corporation trading on the New York Stock Exchange as NYT) is troubled that the new corporate beneficiaries tend to be conservative in their outlook and the decisions by courts have a libertarian philosophy that keeps government from silencing speech that the big media corporation opposes.

Liberals used to love the First Amendment. But that was in an era when courts used it mostly to protect powerless people like civil rights activists and war protesters.

These days, a provocative new study says, there has been a “corporate takeover of the First Amendment.” The assertion is backed by data, and it comes from an unlikely source: John C. Coates IV, who teaches business law at Harvard and used to be a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the prominent corporate law firm.

“Corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment,” Professor Coates wrote. The trend, he added, is “recent but accelerating.”

Oh, the horror of it all -- corporations asserting rights that ought only belong to the poor and downtrodden, and being treated impartially by a blindfolded Lady Justice who is not peeking in order to know when to put her thumb on the scales of justice!

The problem, this article seems to indicate, dates back to decisions that were made in the mid-1970s. Before that, the courts used to only protect the First Amendment rights of downtrodden individuals -- and corporations like the New York Times Company (a New York corporation trading on the New York Stock Exchange as NYT)

How recent a phenomenon is this shocking corporate takeover of the First Amendment? The Times does not provide a precise start date, but surely it must be at least as old as the year 1964. Why? Because that was the year when a wealthy and powerful corporation prevailed in the landmark First Amendment case known as New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the for-profit corporate entity (otherwise known as The New York Times) by rejecting a libel suit filed by a Jim Crow official from Alabama who objected when the paper published a letter critical of his local government's mistreatment of black Americans. If the corporation lost, the Court observed, "would-be critics of official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticism," thus diminishing the scope of the First Amendment.

Seven years later, that same wealthy and powerful corporate entity prevailed in yet another landmark First Amendment case, a decision known as New York Times Co. v. United States. Here the Supreme Court invalidated the federal government's attempt to suppress publication of the so-called Pentagon Papers. According to Justice Hugo Black, the corporation had to win this dispute, otherwise the outcome "would make a shambles of the First Amendment."

So you see, the New York Times Company (a New York corporation trading on the New York Stock Exchange as NYT) used to be a supporter of expanding corporate First Amendment rights -- back when it was the rights of the New York Times Company (a New York corporation trading on the New York Stock Exchange as NYT) that were being protected and expanded.





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