Monday, August 15, 2011

The "Corporations Are People" Thing

As you might expect, Vox has something to say about that.

...the most crucial reason that corporations are not people is that natural persons are creations of God. Corporations are creations of government. As America's Founding Fathers declared, it is self-evident that creatures possess the rights with which they are endowed by their creators. Since man is not God, he does not have the power to endow his creatures with the same rights and abilities that God endowed His. And while the rights and abilities of natural persons cannot be taken away by government, but only violated, the rights and abilities of corporations can be modified or taken away by government at any time. Therefore, we must not only conclude that corporations are not people, but that any attempt to claim an equivalence between natural persons and corporations is an intrinsically false and potentially deleterious act.

Of course, that puts all the atheists (and practical atheists) in a bind, doesn't it?

But metaphysics has never been their strong suit.


jimspice said...

" a bind..."

He came to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. A corporation is not a person because, well, duh!

Dad29 said...

You'll have to do better than "duh", Jim.

Try "Sheesh!!"

jimspice said...

How about a purely Hobbesian take on it. If we are to assign to corporations the same benefits that an individual assumes by entering into the Social Contract, then we must too assign the same obligations and repercussions of abrogation of said contract. One of these being imprisonment. Obviously, a corporation cannot be sent to jail. Did your Leviathan dust jacket have the same cover art as mine ( with the mass of people comprising the ruler? I suppose you could put every employee behind bars, but that hardly seems practical.

Or how about the underlying rational for rule of law that, with the advent of weapons, in the State of Nature even the weakest individual could kill the strongest in their sleep. Not so with a corporation.

An interesting aside, Hobbes considered it a right, if not a duty, for a prisoner to escape once incarcerated. Then again, he was writing at a time when there was miles of countryside to blend into and no fast-as-light communication and no AFIS database. Interestingly, I believe such sentiment is still written into the Geneva Convention's guidelines for POWs.

Dad29 said...


You can, if you wish, live in the purely Hobbesian State.

I'll take one which is informed by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ask Spice about his wife screwing over the Mega Marts back in 2004...

Gregory said...

If corporations are people why aren't they limited to the $2500 in campaign contributions like the rest of us people?

jimspice said...

Tell anonymous to come and knock on my fucking front door if he has the balls to discuss my wife in person.

J. Strupp said...

Haha....exactly Gregory. That would sure be nice wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Conservative judicial activism at its finest regarding corporations = people and money = free speech. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) served as a foundational piece for Citizens United. In Santa Clara, the Supreme Court determined that public corporations, like private citizens, have due process and equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment.

Now preceding every Supreme Court case entry is a headnote, or summary. The court reporter, J.C. Bancroft Davis, a former railroad executive, stated, "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids the State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”

The question of whether corporations were persons within the context of the 14th Amendment, however, was NOT explicitly decided. The Supreme Court NEVER ruled whether corporations were “citizens” and afforded certain inalienable rights. Since 1886, the Supreme Court has reiterated this assumption that corporations are entitled to constitutional protections.

As a result, Congress distinctly defined speech as being political and economic. In general, corporations may invoke rights that individuals possess, such as the right to petition, to speech, to enter into contracts and to hold property, to sue and to be sued, only relating to ECONOMIC/COMMERCIAL matters. When it came to corporations in POLITICAL matters like hosting rallies and campaign contributions, Congress and state governments had enacted several laws banning company involvement in the political arena, citing past corruptive practices.

Supreme Court decisions regarding corporate personhood had focused on businesses being held liable for their production of goods and being able to "voice" their concerns in a court of law when they felt government attempted to strictly regulate their practices. When it came to influencing government policies through political speech, the Supreme Court, Congress, and state legislatures made it a general policy for decades that those rights squarely belonged to living things, not artificially created entities. Decisions in the late 1970's and 1980's, however, slowly eroded that distinction and paved the way for Citizens United to become the law of the land.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative, mentioned the dubious headnote in the Santa Clara case when he wrote a compelling dissent in a
1978 Supreme Court case that expanded corporate personhood. Rehnquist reiterated Chief Justice John Marshall's views in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) a corporation was an ARTIFICIAL BEING possessing the properties which the charter of creation confers upon it--meaning a government granted a business with the ECONOMIC right--not POLITICAL rights--to operate within its borders. Moreover, Rehnquist warned treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech was to "confuse metaphor with reality".

Anonymous said...

So how should the Supreme Court treat newspapers, magazines, and television networks which report the news? The Court in media cases has tailored its rulings under the "Freedom Of The Press" clause and in citizen cases has tailored its rulings under the "Freedom Of Speech" clause. That is, it renders an opinion based on previous cases and past precedents in the appropriate area. We know that exceptions exist to free speech (e.g. sedition, slander) for both media companies and citizens. Media companies, however, are unique in its role regarding free speech compared to other businesses. If a reporter engaged in slander, they would be sued under their occupation as a writer employed by their company. If a business owner engaged in slander, they would be sued as a private citizen. In either situation, the courts would determine whether or not the accusation had merit and make a decision in that specific context.

In Citizens United, three issues were addressed: 1) is a company, as an "artificial entity" (that is, deriving its legitimacy by a legislature) whose function is ECONOMIC in nature, entitled to the POLITICAL rights as "natural persons" (that is, citizens of a nation as specified by the criteria of a legislature) under the Constitution; 2) is "free speech" simply "free speech" or is it delineated as "political free speech" and "economic/commercial free speech" -and- 3) does “free speech” protections for companies override the historical impact of corporate monied interests in politics.

The decision centered on the POLITICAL content of their good (i.e. film) in relation to the McCain-Feingold Act, not the ECONOMIC right of Citizens United (a non-profit corporation) to produce a good.

Critics of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who helped to craft the majority opinion, emphatically stated during his confirmation that the Court should refrain from overturning precedent. He presented himself as an incrementalist, a justice opposed to big changes in direction. One can argue whether Roberts has actually lived up to his judicial-restraint packaging.