Faculty Notes

Prof. Ronald Colombo Publishes Op-Ed on Corporate Constitutional Rights in New York Daily News

Ronald J. Colombo, Professor of Law

Professor Ronald J. Colombo published the op-ed “Liberals, welcome this chicken chain: New York City is actually a perfect home for an outspoken corporate citizen like Chick-fil-A” in the October 2, 2015, edition of the New York Daily News.

Professor Colombo argues that the Citizens United decision “serves as an important bulwark against a form of despotism that should not be lightly cast aside” — discrimination against “businesses that dare to express heterodox perspectives.”


Much ink has been spilled regarding the corrupting influence of corporate money on American elections since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Many commentators simply see no justification for granting business enterprises some of the same rights enjoyed by individual human beings. “Corporations aren’t people,” goes the battle cry.

But the abuse that Chick-fil-A has suffered at the hands of some governmental officials after exercising pure political speech rights should prompt a reconsideration of such skepticism.

No fair-minded person wants our government — federal, state or local — to persecute those who espouse views at odds with those in power. Indeed, many who settled the United States did so fleeing exactly such oppression.

However, even in some of our nation’s most progressive cities (indeed, primarily in some of our nation’s most progressive cities), this fundamental American value of fair and neutral government has seemingly been cast aside.

We see this happen routinely to Walmart. Government resistance to that that company’s presence commonly goes beyond the fair play of challenging the way it treats its workers and its effect on nearby small businesses to its support for charter schools and other education reform causes.

That’s an attack on speech rights, plain and simple. Imagine if Apple, a famously pro-LGBT company, or companies with a history of support for Planned Parenthood — there are dozens — were routinely blackballed from doing business in red states.

In Chick-fil-A’s case, we’re not talking about refusal to obey the law of the land. Rather, at issue is simply the completely legal practice of supporting a political cause.

Discriminating against a person on such grounds is unquestionably unconstitutional. And had Citizens United been decided differently, companies would be much more vulnerable to such persecution. Petty politicians across America would be emboldened to do exactly what has been done in Denver, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco: hound and mistreat businesses that dare to express heterodox perspectives.

So, whatever its shortcomings, we should recognize and celebrate that the Citizens United decision serves as an important bulwark against a form of despotism that should not be lightly cast aside.

Read the full op-ed.