ExxonMobil's use of the First Amendment to fight against government regulation is just the latest example of what some law enforcement officials and legal experts are calling an escalating trend of US corporations 'abusing' free speech rights to battle the government in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
In 2011, the tobacco industry successfully claimed that on-package cancer warnings violated the industry's free speech. In 2013, the broadband industry, led by Verizon, cited the First Amendment to fight against federal rules protecting net neutrality, the principle that all internet content should be equally accessible, saying the agency's ruling "violates the First Amendment by stripping them of control over the transmission of speech on their networks." (That argument ultimately failed.)
And just this week, Airbnb invoked the First Amendment in its fight against San Francisco rules requiring the company's renters register with the city. Such rules would be "a content-based restriction on advertising rental listings, which is speech," according to the lawsuit filed by Airbnb.
"We are witnessing an increasing tendency to use the First Amendment to unravel ordinary business regulations."
Each of these free speech arguments is unique—but what ties them together is the use of the First Amendment by corporations to push back against government regulation.
The intensifying frequency of these battles between US corporations and the government highlights the escalating conflict over the scope and limits of First Amendment protections in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which extended free speech rights to corporations.
"We are witnessing an increasing tendency to use the First Amendment to unravel ordinary business regulations," Robert Post, the Dean of Yale Law School, wrote in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.