Earl Warren Would Have Hated the Citizens United Ruling

The disturbing 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United vs. the FEC this week is based largely on the notion that a corporation be legally considered a person, with the same rights of freedom of speech. This was based on what I always a convoluted interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the “equal protection”, post-Civil War amendments designed to prevent states from discrimating against newly freed black slaves. (Arthur at AmeriNZ rants about this here.)

What would Earl Warren, the California governor nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower (reportedly, to his lasting regret), and who served from 1953 to 1969, think of this new ruling? He would have opposed it vigorously. How do I know? I asked him.

Not about the current situation of course; Earl Warren died in July 1974. But the spring of 1973, I took a political science course, and one of the things our professor Ron Steinberg arranged was a meeting by the now-retired author of such landmark rulings as Brown v. Board of Education (equal education regardless of race), Miranda v. Arizona (police to advise suspect in custody of rights), and Reynolds v. Sims (one person, one vote).

Earl Warren spoke to us about many of the cases his court dealt with. As I recall, he seemed optomistic that the court, by then under the jurisdiction of Warren Burger, would continue to open avenues for historically discriminated-against individuals.

Then we got to ask him questions. Dry-mouthed, I rambled some question based on research I had done. It clearly wasn’t apparent what I trying to get at. Finally, I asked him if he thought the Court’s long-time assertion that a corporation was a person was consistent with the legislative intent of the Fourteenth Amendment. He got agitated, apparently not with me, but with the core of the question. “My, no!” he exclaimed. He thought it was a great overreach, not at all consistent with what the amendment was designed to do.

I’m confortable asserting that Earl Warren would have HATED this week’s ruling.

ROG