“Overruling two important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.”
– New York Times, January 21, 2010
My research on technological change is guided by the actor-network theory approach, which holds that objects matter as political actors. Think of the ways that birth control pills, transportation infrastructures, and communication technologies all have had political consequences. Latour even refers to a figurative “parliament of things” that interrupts and intervenes in political life. Of course, actor-network theory has been criticized for, among other things, flattening out the distinctions between different types of actors. Yesterday the US Supreme Court did some flattening of its own. They extended to corporations (and unions and nonprofits) the First Amendment right to free political speech. Will we now be governed by a literal “parliament of things” as corporations speak freely by spending freely in support of candidates and causes aligned with their financial interests? Part of what I found in my dissertation is that corporations’ interests shift regularly and profit is not corporations’ only goal. But if I may make a normative statement, my own findings not withstanding, this decision stinks. Unless, unless … the court could also extent to corporations all the rights and burdens of individual people – to vote, to be arrested, to be convicted of crimes, to go to jail? Could corporations eventually be executed in states that have capital punishment?
I can’t resist pointing out that this morning, when I went to the Supreme Court website and clicked on the decision, “Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n” I got the following error message: “format error: not a PDF or corrupted.” Apparently technologies can now act as political commentators too.