Glenn Greenwald wrote a column in Salon back in 2008 that bears on the debates over Citizens United and the Shareholder Protection Act. Greenwald rightly criticized Palin for claiming the First Amendment was threatened when reporters attacked her for making negative comments about President Obama:
The First Amendment is actually not that complicated. It can be read from start to finish in about 10 seconds. It bars the Government from abridging free speech rights. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re free to say things without being criticized, or whether you can comment on blogs without being edited, or whether people can bar you from their private planes because they don’t like what you’ve said.
Amen to that.
By the same token, as I noted last week, the First Amendment does not guarantee anyone the right to own stock only in companies whose views they agree with. If shareholders don’t like a corporation’s views, they can try to change its policies or take their investment dollars elsewhere.
Does this mean that corporations will always say sensible things or behave responsibly? Of course not, any more than protecting freedom of the press means the media will always be objective. But neither of these things violates anyone’s rights. If you don’t like what you hear, turn the channel. If you don’t like the views of those with whom you are associating, vote with your feet.
As Greenwald pointed out, Palin's view turns the First Amendment on its head: “According to Palin, what the Founders intended with the First Amendment was that political candidates for the most powerful offices in the country and Governors of states would be free to say whatever they want without being criticized in the newspapers.”
Critics of Citizens United ultimately support the same result, whether intentionally or not. As the Supreme Court stated, the ban on corporate speech “muffle[d] the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.” Upholding it, the Court noted, would have mean silencing not only business corporations, but ultimately media corporations as well. The Court’s eloquent response speaks to both Sarah Palin’s view and the critics of Citizens United: “The First Amendment was certainly not understood to condone the suppression of political speech in society’s most salient media.”
There’s a big difference between being criticized or having someone decline to associate with you on your terms and being censored. Only the government is capable of censoring speech, which it does through coercion. Short of that, we are on our own. Or, as the Court put it in Citizens United: “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
We should bear all of this in mind as Congress and the states consider the latest legislation designed to “repair” the alleged “damage” from Citizens United.