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As it happens, Citizens United does have a connection to slave history

I did not read Representative Edward J. Markey’s comments about the Dred Scott and Citizens United Supreme Court decisions as equating the horrible evil of slavery with the distorting effects of unlimited third-party campaign spending on elections (“Edward Markey holds firm on his analogy to slavery ruling,” Feb. 21). Instead, I understood the remarks to suggest only that both decisions imperiled basic rights of citizenship, including the fundamental right to self-determination.

It is worth adding that there is an important, if ironic, legal connection between the two cases. Citizens United built on the court’s 1886 decision that effectively extended to corporations the rights of persons as established by the 14th Amendment, the constitutional provision passed to guarantee citizenship rights to African-Americans following the abolition of slavery.

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Thus an amendment designed specifically to provide basic rights to one of history’s most oppressed populations was, less than two decades later, put to the purpose of conferring such rights on the most powerful form of private economic organization history had ever seen: the American corporation.

Peter Cleary Yeager


The writer teaches the sociology of law at Boston University.

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