The Hill: Remembering a major victory for free speech, 40 years later (In the News)

The Hill: Remembering a major victory for free speech, 40 years later

By Thomas Wheately

The case, known as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, challenged the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law that censored speech by corporations on ballot measures. The law included criminal penalties.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the law, reversing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. “We … find no support” the Court held, “for the proposition that speech that otherwise would be within the protection of the First Amendment loses that protection simply because its source is a corporation…” …

But that’s wrong – very wrong. For decades, the Supreme Court has recognized a corporation’s right to free speech. The Citizens United opinion alone cites 25 cases supporting this point, the first cited case being Bellotti, though it was not the first such decision. Nor, as some have suggested, has the Court ever recognized a so-called “media exemption,” which would grant press outlets full First Amendment protection, but not other corporations. Indeed, the Court has explicitly rejected that argument…

Americans of all political stripes have long reaped the rewards of the sort of corporate speech protected by Bellotti and earlier rulings. Take, for example, the civil rights movement.

In 1964, the New York Times defeated a dubious libel suit brought by white southerners in part because the newspaper, a corporation, was able to invoke First Amendment protection.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.