Happy 4th of July – Independence Day – tomorrow.
But the old red, white and blue looks a little more tattered this year compared to the past.
For today, thanks in great part to the US Supreme Court, John Q. Citizen, the human being citizen who is the bedrock our unique experiment in self-governance, is being replaced by John Q. Corporation.
There was a time in the United States when John Q. Citizen was the most honored and respected title one could hold in this democracy of ours. While striving for the common good has been the hallmark of the American experience, the individual citizen reigned supreme in our hierarchy.
We anointed that citizen with many rights and protections: free speech and the right to assemble; freedom from unreasonable governmental search & seizure; the right of self-governance anchored by the right to vote (though it took many years to perfect that right). We promised that the government would not impose religion upon that individual citizen and, in fact, said the government would not interfere with his practice of his religion or the practice of any and all religions. And, we sought to provide to the citizen the opportunity to succeed through education and the chance to earn a decent living for himself and his family by honoring and rewarding the value of his labor and even his capital.
We even created a legal vehicle by which he could participate in commerce with some protections. That legal vehicle was a corporation. An individual citizen could conduct business by investing in a corporation, either by himself or with other citizens in large or small numbers. Many legal protections were provided to that corporation in order for commerce to advance.
In that structure, people – citizens – made up corporations, but corporations were not people, corporations were not citizens. Rights and protections given to corporations to help them conduct commerce on behalf of citizens were not intended to turn the legal contrivance of the corporation itself into a full-fledged, fully empowered citizen.
But today, the honored position of John Q. Citizen is being overshadowed by the position of John Q. Corporation. Rights of citizenship are repeatedly being given to corporations by the current Supreme Court, while at the same time the rights of individual American citizens are being eroded or eliminated by that same Supreme Court.
It seemed almost laughable, back in August of 2011, when I heard Mitt Romney declare that “Corporations are people, my friend.” But that really isn’t just a punch line for late night TV comics. For we are increasingly seeing the Supreme Court and various appellate courts hell-bent on giving rights to John Q. Corporation while cutting back on your rights as John Q. Citizen.
First case in point: voting rights. Just one year ago the Supreme Court activist majority of five declared that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had achieved its goals and voter discrimination and suppression had ended in the states and jurisdictions that had previously been required to get their voting law changes approved by the Justice Department prior to enactment and implementation. Not surprisingly, since then an all-out assault of voting rights and extremely restrictive voter suppression measures emerged all across the country. Today, thanks in a large part to the Supreme Court, voting is much more difficult all across America for John Q. Citizen.
Contrast that with the decisions of Supreme Court in Citizens United and affiliated cases where corporations not only have “free speech,” but money is free speech and corporations are entitled to spend whatever amount they want to influence elections. And they are spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars each election cycle to purchase the best Congress and State Legislatures that money can buy. To do this, the Supreme Court actually threw out Montana’s restriction on corporate dollars in elections that was passed by the people of the Treasure State in 1912.
So the Court has opened the door for making harder for people (John Q. Citizen) to vote while enabling John Q. Corporation to purchase the political processes of America.
The latest affront was last week when the Supreme Court declared that John Q. Corporation can now have religious beliefs, beliefs that can control the right of John Q. Citizen and Jane Q. Citizen to access certain forms of reproductive health care.
Now I fully subscribe to the protection of an individual’s rights of religious freedom. And I know that sometimes those rights when applied to all citizens often lead to conflict. It’s been said that my freedom to throw a punch ends at your nose. But this Supreme Court decision addressed that inherent conflict by unbelievably empowering the corporation itself to have religious beliefs.
The slippery slope of empowerment of John Q. Corporation continued.
This is Evan Barrett in Butte, looking at our slightly tattered flag of citizenship and hoping that John Q. Citizen will someday be restored to his place of honor in our country.
Evan Barrett of Butte, has spent the last 45 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. He is currently the Director of Business & Community Outreach and an instructor at Highlands College of Montana Tech. These are his personal views.