With Prop 59, Tom Steyer Wants To Nullify The Bill Of Rights

Prop 59 would not just limit corporate political spending, it would exempt wide swaths of American society from any constitutional protections whatsoever.

Tom Steyer wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow the government to regulate religious sermons, tap the phones of the American Civil Liberties Union, seize phone record and Internet search histories on a whim, and give bureaucrats veto power over the content of The New York Times.

If that sounds like hyperbole, you need only read the text of Proposition 59, the California ballot measure Steyer endorsed last week. Billed as an attempt to roll back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the measure is actually far broader and more dangerous: it seeks to eliminate all constitutional rights for incorporated entities—for-profit companies, but also nonprofit groups, labor unions, charities, churches, and any other association given an official government imprimatur.

Steyer has focused of late on the ostensibly pernicious effects of money in politics as he pours more money than any other individual into federal elections. But for all of Prop 59’s focus on Citizens United, it never even mentions the separate Supreme Court case that has allowed Steyer to almost single-handedly finance one of the wealthiest political groups in the country.

“The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are intended to protect the rights of individual human beings,” declares California Senate Bill 254, which placed Prop 59 on the ballot. “Corporations are not mentioned in the United States Constitution, nor have we decreed that corporations have rights separate from ‘We the People.’”

People in Groups Lose Their Rights
Put simply, SB 254 says, “Corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as human beings.” Those rights, as we know, include not just the right to free speech that produced the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, but also rights to due process, a jury trial, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Prop 59 calls for the California legislature to back a constitutional amendment eliminating those and all other liberties in the Bill of Rights for incorporated entities. It proposes to overturn not just Citizens United but all “other applicable judicial precedents,” including court rulings that applied constitutional rights to incorporated entities.

The legal definition of “corporations” includes not just for-profit entities but non-profits, charities, labor unions, churches, and virtually every other association recognized under the law. It’s worth considering, then, what sorts of activities would be permitted if, unlikely though it is, Steyer got his way, the ballot measure passed, and the Constitution were amended in the manner SB 254 spells out.

Corporations—which, again, include far more than just profit-making enterprises—would no longer have rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. If a government entity decides that it wants some piece (or every piece) of information from the ACLU, to use a particularly illustrative example, it could tap the group’s phones, monitor its digital communications, bug its offices, conduct random and sweeping physical searches, and otherwise pry into the most sensitive details of its work, all without obtaining a warrant or any other legal justification. As an incorporated entity, the ACLU no longer would have any constitutional rights, so all of its property and communications would be fair game.

Churches and religious organizations are, by and large, incorporated entities. Under Prop 59, those entities would no longer enjoy First Amendment freedoms, meaning the government would be free to regulate religious worship, teachings, sermons, and educational and charitable endeavors. As officers of incorporated entities, clergy could be barred from expressing their faith in an official capacity if Congress or a presidential administration disapprove.

The government could seize any corporate assets it desires. The Sixth Amendment’s protections against the seizure of property without just compensation would no longer apply, so the next time the National Security Agency wanted a full and complete accounting of your cell phone calls, your Google search history, or your credit card purchases, all it would have to do is take that information from the relevant company. Of course, any corporate property would now be government property the minute the bureaucracy decides it is, meaning every media company in the country must surrender its printing presses and video cameras if the government decides it wants them.

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