Saturday, January 21, 2012

Occupy the Courts!

I had the privilege of speaking to about 200 people outside the 9th Circuit Court building in San Francisco yesterday as part of Occupy the Courts (this is despite the rain).  Up the street in the financial district thousands were marching about and closing down banks on a day of action called Occupy Wall Street West.  It was all connected.  Two years ago the Citizens United ruling – which allowed corporations to give large sums of money to politicians – came down and an already flawed democracy got even worse.  You could say that decision was like the fox in the henhouse deciding that gluttony is ok – a country where wealth is more consolidated than it has ever been had its highest court declare that big money is free to use it's money to subvert democracy as much as it wants.

Here is more or less what I said:

First, since I was speaking for the National Lawyers Guild, I mentioned the group and the part of our founding document that says human rights should be regarded as more sacred than property interests. The Citizens United case is a classic example of the clash between the two and our federal courts proved they are incapable of protecting human rights over property interests.

Corporations are human creations; they are legal entities – created by the state, given certain privileges by the state, and regulated by the state. Unlike human beings, they can live forever; Unlike all of us, many of them make billions of dollars and may pay little or no taxes. There is no reason why they're spending on politics can't be limited through democratic means. Nonprofit organizations are limited in their political spending. Churches and charitable organizations are limited. So why not for-profit corporations?

All of us ordinary human beings face time, place, and manner restrictions – many of which I disagree with (and even if I think there are some fair time/place/manner restrictions; they are often enforced in a discriminatory or arbitrary way against ordinary people).   Nonetheless, these courts have largely condoned such restrictions because there is a compelling state interest. Permit requirements, amplified sound restrictions, free speech zones, and nuisance laws – these are the hurdles to free speech most burdensome to us non-corporations. There is no more compelling interest than protecting democracy.

I asked the people assembled "who here likes democracy?"  The response was unanimous.