I blogged last week about the People’s Rights Amendment, which has been introduced by Congressman Jim McGovern. Among other things, I argued, the Amendment would mean that Congress and state and local legislatures would be free to restrict what’s printed by newspapers that are organized as corporations. The National Review Online took the same view. Now the backers of the Amendment are arguing that the National Review say that’s a “false claim” (thanks to Opher Banarie for the pointer):
Your editorial also makes false claims that the People’s Rights Amendment would adversely impact freedom of the press. These claims are clearly contradicted by section 3 of the amendment, which reads:
Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.
Well, let’s look at the whole text of the suggested Amendment:
Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulations as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.
Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.
So under section 1, all constitutional rights, including the First Amendment, are limited to “natural persons.” Under section 2, that doesn’t include corporations. And section 3 preserves the “people‘s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, [and] free exercise of religion” (emphasis added), which — given section 2 — excludes the rights of newspapers (and similar organizations) organized as corporations. So if the People’s Rights Amendment were enacted, Congress would have an entirely free hand to censor what is published in newspapers organized as corporations, what is published by book publishers organized as corporations, what is created by movie studios that are organized as corporations, what is distributed by music companies that are organized as corporations, and so on.
Now this would have two effects.
First, any media organization that wants to be free would thus have to give up the benefits of the corporate form, and will have to organized as a partnership. This will make it much harder for those media organizations to raise operating capital, dealing with changes in ownership as partners die or leave, and the like.
Second, those media organizations that choose to organize as a corporation would have huge practical competitive benefits over organizations that choose to organize as partnerships. As a result, the normal competitive process will drive most non-corporate-owned large media organizations out of business (or at least will make them much smaller and less effective at producing the sort of speech that requires a good deal of money), and will give corporate-owned large media organizations the overwhelming majority of the market share. And then Congress and state and local legislatures would have a free hand to censor those organizations as much as they can (at least up to the point where the economic cost of the censorship would be large enough to outweigh the economic benefit of the corporate form).
Would that “adversely impact freedom of the press”? Or was that just a “false claim” on the National Review Online’s part (and on my part)?