Citizens United v. Animal Sentience
An Animal Rights Article from


James McWilliams
August 2012

If the First Amendment is going to be extended beyond individual humans, it should apply to animals before it does the corporations that kill them....

Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission was a 2010 Supreme Court decision that granted to corporations (and unions) the same protection under the First Amendment as individuals. Progressives roundly and wisely derided this decision as a travesty of justice, if not common sense. Forget the fact that conceding freedom of expression to an abstract pile of capital (which is essentially what a corporation is) ranks high on the stupidity scale. What really riles me is that the ruling was a shameless instance of power pandering to power under the guise of legal legitimacy.

The state was, in this case, essentially deploying (and distorting) the U.S. Constitution to protect and promote the conscious prevarication endemic to crony capitalism. Corporations sought moral equivalence with individuals for the sole purpose of being able to lie. Indeed, they want to legally lie to us about their products and services without paying the due consequences when those lies harm us and the society we work to nurture. When intentionally misleading and even knowingly bogus advertisements are deemed legally justified, the entire apparatus that is our nation suffers death by a thousands cuts, almost imperceptibly, one sinister little slice after another. Integrity vanishes from commercial culture and, in due time, we'll be nothing but a shell of a nation run by a 467 super-rich airheads.

Histrionics aside, no matter how I feel about Citizens, it’s the law of the land. Which makes me wonder: if the Supreme Court can grant to an insensate lump of capital protected freedom of expression, how can it possibly deny such protection to sentient animals with clear wants and needs that---when given the chance--- they routinely act upon to fulfill? If the Supreme Court recognizes the First Amendment rights of an abstraction, why not a living individual? True, animals have been deemed to have some rights, for some animals, in some places, at some times. But why shouldn’t protection be comprehensively federal? Why shouldn’t the first amendment apply to them? Why shouldn’t animals be given the right to choose not to walk into a stun gun? Not to lock herself in a crate? Not to be mutilated? Not to be killed and eaten? Given freedom of expression, they’d certainly choose to act contrary to how we treat them. Why do we deny them this choice?

Our thinking about animals and society is so stunted (or non-existant) that many of us have no problem tolerating the imputation of rights to impersonal legal fictions while ignoring the preexisting natural rights of sentient individual beings. What makes this glaring inconsistency all the more galling is that the food corporations that have now managed to codify their systematically packaged lies as legally sound are the same organizations that brutally exploit the animals that are far more ethically eligible to have their interests protected. If the First Amendment is going to be extended beyond individual humans, it should apply to animals before it does the corporations that kill them.

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