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In this excellent post, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick takes a look at the insidious movement to extend and expand “personhood” and argues that the movement’s underlying tenets, taken to extremes by courts and legislatures, wind up demeaning the very essence of being human.

As Lithwick notes, corporations are people — at least for purposes of political expression — following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  So too will zygotes be if anti-abortion activists have their way with legislators across the country.

And now the Supreme Court will once again address the scope of “personhood”  in the two cases it agreed to hear last week — Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deciding whether coroporations are people for purposes of religious expression as well.

Here’s why that determination should be troublesome for people (human beings) regardless of religious views or politics:

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are ultimately so worrisome because they fuse together two of the most dangerous right-wing civil rights obsessions of our times: the ambition of large, for-profit corporations to see themselves as people, with faith, convictions, and consciences, and the attempt of citizens, using their own science and their own facts, to declare when legal personhood begins, and then impose universal laws based on those beliefs. The cases are a collision of two very insidious legal metaphors — that personhood begins when any one religion says it does and that religious personhood can be vested in corporations in ways that can be forced on workers. It simply cannot be the case that in a country of 319 million people, we are ready to recognize zygotes and Walmart as legal “persons.” We can protect animals and unborn babies and corporations without also embodying them with a humanity they don’t possess. Turning everything and anything into a “person” ultimately also serves to turn persons into things.

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Elena Kagan, the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wasted no time yesterday jumping into the fray during argument in the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, according to this Reuters report.

At issue in McCutcheon is the viability of FEC aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees.

Just minutes after the argument began, Kagan fired off a number of worst-case scenarios that might result if the court threw out those limits:

Kagan raised the specter of an individual donor who stays within the base $5,000 limit for a Political Action Committee (PAC) but then – presuming the aggregate limits are lifted – contributes to 100 PACs. She theorized that money could be transferred to U.S. Senate candidates who would know of the original contributions and feel beholden to the contributors.

Under another scenario, she said, an individual could stay within base limits on contributions to candidates, parties and committees but – if facing no overall cap – give a total $3.5 million. “Having written a check for 3.5-or-so million dollars … are you suggesting that that party and the members of that party are not going to owe me anything, that I won’t get any special treatment?”

Those scenarios, mocked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, caught the attention of others, though — including Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts — prompting some to speculate that a decision along party lines might not be forthcoming.

At another point, Kagan took a shot at her conservative colleagues’ decision in Citizens United:

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision, challenged Verrilli about the underpinning of the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that gave government more leeway to put limits on contributions compared to expenditures.

Verrilli said Congress could always write a new law, if it chose, changing the contribution limits.

That prompted Kagan to interject, “And General, I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.” That would mean reversing Citizens United. Said Verrilli, “Far be it from me to suggest that you don’t, your honor.”

 

 

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The U. S. Supreme Court will open its new term in October with another blockbuster case involving campaign financing.

McCutcheon v. FEC (called “Citizens United II” by some), scheduled for argument on Oct.8, involves a challenge to limits on individual donor contributions.  In 2012, the overall contribution limit for a single donor in the 2012 election cycle was $70,800 to all party committees and $46,200 to all federal candidates.

Conservative Alabama activist Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee want to have lots more money flowing into elections and have asked the Court to overrule years of precedent upholding such limits.

Here’s a little history on the regulation of contributions and a warning on just why this case — even more than Citizens United — is such a threat to democracy,courtesy of  this opinion piece in today’s Politico:

 In the wake of Watergate, Congress in 1974 enacted comprehensive new campaign finance laws that included limits on individual contributions to candidates and an overall limit on the total amount an individual could give to all federal candidates and parties.

The Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo explicitly upheld the constitutionality of the overall contribution limit, as well as the individual contribution limits.

Since then, the Supreme Court has never struck down a federal contribution limit. Instead, the court has relied repeatedly on Buckley to hold that large contributions create opportunities for corruption and therefore can be subject to limits consistent with the First Amendment.

We’ll have more on this and other cases queued for argument in the new term in the coming weeks.

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NC Policy Watch follower Betsy Caudle Lowman of Boone recently sent us the following essay — we hope you will enjoy it.

U.S. declines into “de-MOCK-racy”
By Betsy Caudle Lowman

Each year The Economist, a conservative British news magazine, rates the nations of the world on the degree to which they operate according to democratic principles. This year, Norway replaced Sweden at the top of the heap. The United States is not included in the highest category, which includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, and Britain. Should this surprise anyone?  Americans love to believe they have government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but this has never been less true than at present.  Read More

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Art Pope 3This is from this morning’s Washington Post:

“The third Koch ‘brother’ hits North Carolina

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There’s something rotten in the state of North Carolina — and it smells like money. Specifically, Art Pope’s money.

In fact, Pope and his cash are responsible for North Carolina’s recent meteoric rise as the poster child for regressive, conservative politics.

As the head of Variety Wholesalers (a family-run discount store holding company) and the $150 million Pope Family Foundation, he has invested in an array of think tanks and advocacy groups dedicated to aggressively aligning the state’s political terrain with his business interests. Gov. Pat McCrory, whose campaign he bankrolled, recently named Pope to the powerful post of state budget director.

Pope is, for all intents and purposes, North Carolina’s third, lesser known, Koch brother. In fact, he’s attended the Koch Brothers’ planning summits and considers himself their close ally. Read More