Sotomayor touches on the critical but much-neglected topic of corporate "personhood"
Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said, the Wall Street Journal noted Friday. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”
Corporations were first afforded the rights of persons under United States law in the 1800s, allowing them wide protections under federal code. Development of the law mushroomed as corporations — which were originally chartered by and in single states — began to grow larger and cross state lines. Eventually, courts ruled that states didn’t have the right to revoke contracts made by the corporations themselves. They also ruled that states didn’t have the unhindered right to revoke corporate charters.
Corporate personhood emerged from the 1886 Supreme Court Case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad.
The interpretation of law giving corporations individual rights is salient in the campaign finance debate because corporations with “human rights” under law also have a right to free speech. Those seeking to gut campaign finance regulations use this argument when positing that the ability for firms to spend lavishly on political campaigns is tantamount to their right to free speech.
The U.S. Constitution, which defines our nation of popular sovereignty, boldly begins with three simple words, written large, "We the People." These three famous words convey responsibility equally to all people to make our own laws.
But "We the People" have never included all the people. Those in power always try to maintain power. Initially, only land-owning white men voted. It took a century, the Civil War and three constitutional amendments to abolish slavery and let black men vote. The 19th Amendment ratified in 1920 let women vote. In the 1960s, amendments eliminated poll taxes to protect poor, mostly black voters, and allowed Washington DC voters to participate in presidential elections. In 1971, the 26th Amendment established a consistent national minimum voting age.
But as soon as freed male slaves were allowed to vote, the wealthiest white men created a better way to maintain control. Starting in the 1880s, ironically using the 14th Amendment, one of the Reconstruction Amendments that abolished the legal fiction that a person was property, corporate attorneys convinced a few judges (who were previously corporate attorneys) to create corporate personhood, the legal fiction that property is a person. This gave corporations, which are non-human, artificial legal entities for owning property, some of the rights intended for freed slaves. Toiling another century, more attorneys convinced more judges to expand corporate rights to add protections from the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (Legislators who were elected through the largesse of corporations shoulder the blame for allowing these decisions to stand.)
Today, corporate personhood is fully mature, giving corporations all the rights necessary to combine with their wealth to control our governance. Using modern media and marketing science, voters are persuaded which candidates to elect. With gifts, campaign contributions and no spending limits on lobbyists, lawmakers are influenced. "We the People" are not in control; instead, non-humans dominate the process of making laws that control humans!
Don't be fooled into believing that corporations are controlled by humans. Although corporations were initially created centuries ago by lawmakers for the purpose of serving the public good, they now must obey legal obligations to strive for profit, not public good. Corporations are not human, they simply don't share our morality or mortality and they have no business participating in the process of making laws that govern people. Democracy embodies the ideal of one person, one vote, but corporations have hijacked democracy by diminishing the power of all our votes below the influence of their wealth.
To gain control, humans must ban corporations from politics using a constitutional amendment that abolishes corporate personhood. Corporations serve a vital function in our society; they allow capital to be combined to accomplish amazing things. They drive our glorious way of life and prosperity. We must provide corporations with the rights and tools they need to thrive while serving the public good; we can do that without letting them participate in our law making process. But they'll use their persuasive powers to disagree. They'll vilify candidates who promise to limit corporate influence. We must be strong and ignore their deluge of ads and pundits, and only vote for candidates who put "We the People" above "We the Corporations."
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