Personally, I have always been fascinated by history, especially history of the founding of our country. So, in reading Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010), I wondered how the decision would comport with the ideas behind the Constitution, especially those of the Federalists, like James Madison.
In the opinion for Citizens United, Justice Kennedy quotes James Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10 in support of the proposition that the government had "muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy," i.e. corporations. Id. at 907. The Federalist Papers were a series published in New York newspapers during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 268 (1986). Although the series was signed "Publius," the papers were actually written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay and constituted the Federalist point of view. Id. The papers are now widely considered as the "final eloquent exposition of the United States Constitution, and . . . serve as an aid to the courts, to Congress and the President." Id.
The opinion cites a Federalist Paper written by Madison when stating, "[f]actions will necessarily form in our Republic, but the remedy of destroying the liberty of some factions is worse than disease. Factions should be checked by permitting them all to speak and by entrusting the people to judge what is true and what is false." Citizens, 130 S.Ct. at 907 (internal citations omitted). After this decision, however, many scholars now debate whether the determination that the prohibition on corporate independent political expenditures as an unconstitutional outright ban on speech of corporations is truly what the framers of the Constitution, like Madison, who was the primary drafter of the Bill of Rights, intended.
Although we can only speculate, it is probably safe to assume that the modern corporation was not envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution. That fact alone, however, does not necessarily make the extension of its provisions void to such organizations. The Constitution is like no other document of its type in history in that it has been malleable to modern expansions of traditional ideas, such as the corporation. But was the idea of corporate person-hood and the idea of corporate freedom of speech really intended by the drafters of the document itself? The best answer to this question is like most others in law, it depends.
Some scholars point to the fact that Madison fought the establishment of a national bank as evidence of his aversion to this principal. Others also point to his warning of corporate interference in politics, calling corporations necessary evils that require proper limitations. Still others, like Justice Kennedy, point to the Federalist Papers as evidence to support the proposition that fractions are necessary to our governments and should be given protection, even if coming from a corporation. Citizens, 130 S.Ct. at 907. Like the Constitution itself, however, the Federalist Papers and other writings of the founding fathers lend themselves to interpretation, which is what makes them still relevant but also frustrating when looking for a solid answer. The writings often take the interpretation of the reader.
Arguably, the more important question is how does this important decision impact the future and the rights that corporations are given moving forward; however, a look to the past may give us direction for the future. Is a corporation now a citizen?