On Monday, the Supreme Court began a new term and it looks eager to expand the scope of its misguided Citizens United decision. Many of the new cases it chose address corporate power. One of these cases in particular is ripe for a disaster on the scale of Citizens United.
The Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T began when the FCC investigated the telecommunication giant for overcharging the government. AT&T is arguing that the results of that investigation should be kept secret and that the company should not be subject to open records requests under the important Freedom of Information Act.
AT&T, like any corporation, is entitled to keep trade secrets from becoming public. But this line of argument is something entirely different, one that can only be made with some legitimacy in the post-Citizens United era: corporations, under corporate personhood, have privacy rights that would qualify them for an exemption under the FOIA. That the Citizens United case could be used as precedent to erode Americans’ right to information underscores its transformative nature.
Indeed, after the ill-advised Citizens United ruling, the importance of any Supreme Court case cannot be overestimated. In that case, the Court, instead of reaching a decision with narrow and specific implications, took a small case and used it to fundamentally alter our democracy. Talk about judicial activism.
If the Court rules in favor of AT&T, it could give corporations more dynamic legal authority, and, in the process, truly erode the freedom of information of every American citizen.