Apple, Speech, Corporations, People

So Apple is using a First Amendment argument in its legal fight against the FBI to avoid unlocking those terrorists’ phones.

That’s funny - I keep hearing people telling me that corporations have no First Amendment rights. In fact, since corporations have no constitutional rights because they are not people, they shouldn’t even have the right to due process or to hire an attorney to fight the FBI in the first place. Right?

The amusing thing for me is that many of the people who moan about corporations not having First Amendment rights, or any rights, are likely among those who support Apple in this case for sticking up for privacy.

Tell them to look up the Dictionary Act.

As usual, nobody cares what I think, but I’ve long supported the Citizens United decision for several reasons. One of those reasons, however, is important: individuals exercise speech. Corporations do not, in fact, do so. All speech is inherently an act by a human being. Whether it reflects some deep personal belief or a desire for money is not actually relevant.

Why does this matter in this case? Because you can’t separate the speech of Tim Cook the Apple CEO from Tim Cook the private citizen, to turn a phrase. He’s one guy, with his own views, as are everybody involved. Corporations, so to speak, are legal fictions, but they are legal fictions composed of human beings who do have rights, and those rights matter a great deal. Among them is the right to speech. Another is the right to resist coercion and make their arguments, whether before the law or before public opinion.

Huh. Who are all these people? Do they post here? Are they made of straw?

Either you’re making the absurd argument that a corporation making a statement in the name of that corporation, rather than a certain person, isn’t speech, or you’re simply noting that persons own and operate corporations and it is their speech that is happening.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. The speech involved is speech, and it is protected by the First Amendment.

(edit - I wrote my response as I read, so please see below).

And after reading this, I see that you meant the second of my two possibilities above.


You’ve never heard someone say “corporations aren’t people” when someone asserts the rights of corporations as in Citizens United?

They are saying the corporations don’t have rights because, according to them, only people have rights.

Now, you could say that they are saying corporations only have some rights (which is true), but their argument, that one must be a person to have rights, leads to the conclusion that they have no rights at all, not just some.

Here’s an example. This is from the mission statement of the leading movements opposed to the Citizens United decision:

Ah. So when you refer to “all those people” who assert that corporations should have no rights, you’re referring to some people asserting that corporations should have no individual rights. Got it, on the same page, thanks.

To be fair, it’s a weird issue. It’s basically a legal doctrine about the arbitrary categories that humans organize themselves into, so it’s not like there’s any kind of natural explanation for how or why we regulate them (read: ourselves). I’m not especially well-versed in the law, but what I can understand about Citizens United was that it said, more or less, that it didn’t really matter who was speaking, why, or whether it was paid: the important thing was that it was speech. To that extent my opinion is that the court got it correct, and that any other result would have been very dangerous.

And ironically, it protects the right of groups to protest the decision as such, perhaps not realizing that their own speech is similarly defended. These groups themselves are just arbitrary legal fictions, with the only real difference being which section of the administrative code they ended up falling into.

No, they are saying that individual rights are the only kind of rights, and therefore corporations can’t possibly have rights.

That’s exactly right, and it’s a point most people don’t get.

Yes! I laugh when I see a non-person like “Move to Amend” using money to pay for speech in which it argues that non-persons have no speech rights and money is irrelevant to speech.

They lurk and support the OP in e-mail.

Frankly, I don’t see this as a First Amendment issue. I see this as equivalent to a government regulation on a product/service, the First Amendment only really comes in in Apple publicly protesting this regulation. That is, it seems to me that the FBI is requiring that Apple modify their product, or create an alternate product, that has some security vulnerabilities. Apple is protesting this regulation based on security grounds. Apple, or any corporation, reasonably should be able to take some new regulation, requirement, tax, etc. to court and challenge it. Does that really technically count as free speech? Maybe I don’t have a thorough enough understanding of the law, but that wouldn’t seem to me as such.

When I think of corporate free speech as it relates to Citizens United, I would liken that more to Apple spending money to lobby congress to modify laws to establish or remove various regulations, requirements, taxes, etc., not simply challenging them in court. And if challenging in court DOES count as speech, for those who are against the Citizens United ruling but ARE in favor of Apple’s stance here, with both counting as speech, how would one suggest we disallow corporations from spending money for political causes but allow them to have a principled stance such as Apple’s and challenge such in court?

And while I understand people’s frustrations with Citizens United, I agree with the legal reasoning behind the decision, so I don’t personally have a contradiction between these views.

That’s you disagreeing with Apple’s claims, not with the claim that corporations have no such speech rights.

Well, neither Citizens United nor Apple’s invocation of free speech has anything to do with that though.

CU was about the right to speak in public - not lobbying or speaking in courtrooms.

Apple is claiming that its software is speech and therefore it can’t be forced to speak.


We have the right to peacefully assemble, and each individual of this assembly has free speech rights. Does the peaceful assembly itself have free speech rights?

To say no would mean two people could never speak in unison, which is ridiculous. Two people who agree could never allow just one to speak on behalf of both. Would we outlaw an audience cheering their agreement to what a speaker says?

There’s nothing SCOTUS has ruled on that can’t be overturned by 2/3 each house of Congress and 3/4 the States … please elect better congresspeoples.

I’ll just chime in as another one of the minority (?) who supports Apple’s position and thinks that corporations ought to have free speech rights (basically, that Citizens United was decided correctly).

And I think that Apple has a solid argument that software is speech. Software can express and communicate ideas.

I still don’t get why this is such a huge issue on the left. And as someone who generally sides with Democrats and liberals, it really baffles me. I don’t see how you can get any more “civil rights” than overturning a ban on political speech. Is it just because the people who made that movie are rich?

Also, can’t they see that Obama got elected twice in the face of piles of Koch money? Putting a cap on political speech is just what the Koch brothers want! That way they can save money and prevent their opponents from outspending them too. If you want to challenge the Koch brothers, the only way to do it is by spending more money and speaking louder. If you lower their advertising budget for them while crippling their political opponents, that’s basically just a handout to the billionaires.

I like Bernie a lot, but he really needs to shut up about overturning Citizen’s United.

I’m in the same camp.

Dangle “money” and/or “corporations” in front of many liberals and they will forget everything else.

According to polls, this isn’t a left/right thing. Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to Citizen’s United. There’s slightly more distaste on the left, but it’s 83% opposed compared to 80%.

The reason you hear so much about it from Sanders is that he’s the only candidate who doesn’t benefit much from rich people being able to influence politics. He’s not rich himself, and he doesn’t have ultra-rich backers.

I doubt that greatly.

Why? In any arms race it benefits both sides to stop, the only problem is that you can’t stop if the other side won’t. But cap both sides and all the sudden both can get the same effect for a lot less money.

Trees would love if they could conserve resources and stay short. The US and USSR would have loved if they could have reduced their expensive nuclear arsenal. If God came down and capped Russia’s spending at $1 billion or capped tree height at 10 feet, trees and the US would be happy. He didn’t, so they both had to spend a lot more than they wanted to. I don’t see why this principle wouldn’t extend to Kochs and advertising.