‘Hamilton’ Can Lecture Mike Pence Thanks To Citizens United

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The cast of the broadway musical “Hamilton” has the conservative justices on the Supreme Court to thank for their freedom to hector Vice President-elect Mike Pence at curtain call.

At the conclusion of Friday night’s production at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan, members of the company appealed to the vice president-elect from the stage.

“We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” said cast member Brandon Dixon, who appears in the role of Aaron Burr. “But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

Though it may offend the sensibilities of a New York actor to say so, Dixon was speaking in a corporate capacity. The “Hamilton” musical is a corporate entity called “Hamilton Broadway,” and it appears Dixon was speaking as an agent of the corporation (witness, for example, his use of plural subject and object pronouns like “we” and “us,” indicating he is speaking for a collective). As if to underscore the point, the corporation’s Twitter feed attributed the remarks to the company itself, instead of attributing them to Dixon. Therefore, the lecture at curtain call seems to have been corporate political speech, protected by the Supreme Court’s much-maligned ruling in Citizens United.

The case, decided in 2o1o, asked the justices to, among other things, evaluate the constitutionality of several sections of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act which restricted or suppressed electioneering communications by labor unions and corporations. A five justice majority led by Anthony Kennedy concluded that corporate entities enjoy First Amendment rights of free speech which may not be infringed. (RELATED: Pence On Being Lectured By ‘Hamilton’ Cast: ‘I Wasn’t Offended By What Was Said)

Though one might debate whether the curtain call appeal constitutes electioneering, it was obviously political speech directed at a particular office holder and given for a broad audience (Dixon urged attendees to record and disseminate the remarks that it might “spread far and wide”). What’s more, it was speech enabled from the “Hamilton” general treasury, without which there would be no production and therefore no medium for a St. Alban’s and Columbia educated New York actor to rhapsodize on behalf of his corporation.

Given this confluence of facts, it is indeed fortunate that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and the late Antonin Scalia secured for Hamilton Broadway, perhaps feeling that their art was not powerful enough to speak for itself, the right to explain it.

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