Posts Tagged ‘corporate personhood’

by Elizabeth

“Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen,” Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor joked recently in a speech at Georgetown University. Following Tuesday’s decision to strike down bans on corporate spending in elections, it seems that truer words have never been spoken.

Last Sunday’s Politics Daily online show, Woman UP, discussed O’Connor’s palpable absence on the Court, a feminist issue in two senses. First, without O’Connor’s the Court has made several 5-4 decisions with remarkable implications for women’s rights in America. Further, O’Connor’s early retirement to care for her ailing husband sparks a familiar dialogue on women as caretakers, often at the expense of their careers. The Woman UP panel, consisting of Jill Lawrence, Patricia Murphy, Emily Miller, and Bonnie Erbé, made evident that SCOTUS would have very different dynamic– and certainly a better one– had O’Connor not been made to retire.

The very first woman on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was a law school graduate who’d been offered secretarial jobs. But as a Reagan nominee who Grew up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest, O’Connor was often criticized for never quite fitting the image of a modern feminist. Her husband was known to have spent his days in her chambers while she worked, and O’Connor herself notably delayed her career until her three sons were in school. On her clerks’ door she left a Xerox of her hand with a note that read, “For a pat on the back, lean here.”

But O’Connor was a justice who, after listening to colleague Antonin Scalia constantly rail against affirmative action, responded, “How do you think I got my job?” A pioneer and most often the swing vote, she helped to protect several key policy issues for women’s rights. Though O’Connor allowed certain limits to be placed on access to abortion, she supported the fundamental right to abortion protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, she used a test she had originally developed in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health to limit the holding of Roe v. Wade. Though the decision limited the scope of its protections, Casey upheld Roe; writing the plurality opinion for the Court, O’Connor famously declared, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

O’Connor’s decision to retire in 2006 inevitably disappointed some.

Some criticized her decision to step-down because of her husband’s health as anti-feminist. Others lamented the loss of the crucial, protecting fifth vote. In 2007, O’Connor told Newsweek that she had did not intend for her career on the high court to end as it did, noting that she probably would have worked until she died or became incapacitated, like most (male) justices. “Most of them get ill and are really in bad shape, which I would’ve done at the end of the day myself, I suppose, except my husband was ill and I needed to take action there,” she said.

While, I certainly wish she had stuck it out, O’Connor’s resignation and heavily weighed absence are a reminder that even for the women of country’s nine elite, life/work balance is an elusive concept. As the Woman UP panel contends (and about which they argue whenever defensive and ignorant-seeming Emily Miller speaks up), is that no male judge has ever been forced to early retirement because of his wife or family. Indeed, it seems those “family issues” that force so many male politicians into resignation are really, well, just their own stupidity in having extramarital affairs.

Though we can’t say for sure that women would have been absolutely protected if O’Connor had kept her seat, Jill Lawrence outlines four contentious 5-4 decisions from 2007 alone that likely would have changed with O’Connor’s vote. Among them are the Lily Ledbetter decision and the Gonzales partial-birth abortion ban.

O’Connor has been quite vocal about last week’s 5-4 decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturns federal restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. She says the ruling essentially reverses the 2003 opinion she helped write and threatens the independence of state courts. She told CNN, “It has the effect of turning judges into these politically elected figures in arms races, if you will, by people with the means to support them.”

Even though O’Connor refused to identify herself as a feminist, her decisions and beliefs suggested a jurisprudence we certainly miss.  O’Connor, who will be 80 in March, was, and is, at the top of her game- and as Jill concluded her piece, “that makes it all the more painful that she’s on the sidelines.”


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by Julia

The media is abuzz with the news that CBS will air a thirty-second spot by Focus on the Family featuring University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother during the Superbowl. Focus on the Family is a notoriously anti-choice organization, and the ad portrays Tebow’s mother’s decision not to abort her son, despite severe complications with the pregnancy and medical advice to do so. Focus on the Family, recall, is the same organization that staunchly advocates for a slew of conservative values. In 2008, the organization donated close to a million dollars to pass Proposition 8 in California. Focus on the Family also lobbies for abstinence-only education. Yea, because that’s really working out. The message is clear: this Heisman trophy winner could have been aborted if not for the moral convictions of his mother!! College football would not have been the same!! Kudos to Focus on the Family for fully exploiting a captive, football-loving audience with their clever anti-choice message.

The ad itself is not surprising to me, nor is CBS’s blatant violation of its policy against “advocacy ads.” CBS famously denied the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ advertising during the Superbowl in 2004, citing a policy against running any ad that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue.” In the past, CBS has also rejected ads by PETA and moveon.org because the network “does not run advertisements on controversial issues of public importance.” Right, because animal rights and political transparency are more controversial than a blatant anti-choice message. Most recently, CBS rejected an add from a gay dating site, ManCrunch.com, because it “did not meet their broadcast standards.” Because ads for Cialis and Viagra are fine, but when homosexuality is involved in romantic relationships, suddenly “broadcast standards” are violated. Despite pressure from a coalition of women’s organizations, the Focus on the Family ad is set to run during the Superbowl on February 7th, at a cost to the organization of $2.5 million.

Ultimately, this ad is symbolic of a trend evident in US politics for a long time – money is really effective at limiting the voices (and choices) of Americans. Solidified by the inane SCOTUS decision last week, corporate control over political discourse is on the rise, and has potentially disastrous consequences. I oppose the Focus on the Family ad not because of its manipulative anti-choice message, but because of CBS’s eager abandonment of policy for money. I have maintained little trust in corporations like CBS to adhere to neutral policies, but when such a decision is mirrored in the Supreme Court, the reality of full corporate control of our lives is evident. Because money speaks in advertisement, viewers are literally urged to “consume” anti-choice, to choose these values as they would a pickup truck or type of beer. Scary stuff. But what happens when those same corporate interests dictate law? In this case, the choice is no longer there, and we citizen-consumers are forced to conform to whichever policy has the most money behind it. Much, much scarier.

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by Julia

On Thursday, in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned several precedents previously denying corporations unlimited spending in elections. The Court ruled that the First Amendment right to free speech extended to corporations. Previously limited from directly contributing to candidates, corporations now have the right to unlimited “speech” in the form of campaign donations. This is catastrophic to whatever semblance of true democratic participation left existing in the United States.

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