A constitutional amendment offered in the House of Representatives would strip American companies of all protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. While the amendment is aimed at curbing free speech rights afforded third party groups by the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, it would, whether intended or not, open the door to a host of gross violations of Americans’ civil rights.
The proposed amendment, offered by Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-FL) on Nov. 18, is wholly a product of the violent and subversive “Occupy” protest movement currently unwinding across the country. In a news release, Deutch made specific reference to the protests, and stated, “the days of corporate control of our democracy must end.” Branded with the acronym OCCUPIED, the amendment states:
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes or to promote business interests under the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.
Note that the amendment would apply not just to the First Amendment, but to the entire Constitution. Because it would therefore preclude companies from Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections, for instance, the federal government could wiretap company phones without warrants, seize company records on a whim, or expropriate company property without due process.
All of those government activities are constitutionally prohibited, but under Deutch’s proposed amendment, private companies – under any legal incorporation – would not enjoy those protections.
Deutch’s proposal would only apply to private companies. Labor unions would be exempted from its flagrant infringements on constitutional liberties, as would nonprofit organizations such as Heritage and the Sierra Club. The same selective approach was taken in the last legislative attempt to reverse Citizens United, which would have imposed burdensome and potentially unconstitutional limitations and reporting requirements on private companies, but not unions. Both unions and incorporated companies have had their political freedoms restored under the post-Citizens United campaign finance regime.
The amendment would also exempt media companies and their corporate parents. Under pre-Citizens United law, news outlets enjoyed a monopoly among private companies on free political speech, meaning companies that owned those news outlets – General Electric, for instance – were free to opine on current affairs as they pleased via their media holdings, while the vast majority of American companies were not. (G.E. reportedly pushed policies through its NBC holdings that advanced its own financial interests.)
Deutch’s proposal would take that thoroughly lopsided approach to the First Amendment and apply it to every other amendment. But media companies would enjoy not just the free speech rights denied to all other corporations, but all other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Asked about the proposal, Heritage legal expert Hans Von Spakovsky called it “one of the worst, most anti-democratic amendments I have ever seen.”