Thanks for taking the time to learn more. Many thanks to Move to Amend for assembling this information.
- Corporate personhood in a nutshell
- History of the corporation
- The need for constitutional reform
- Building a democracy movement
- Reports and commentary on Citizens United
1. Corporate Personhood in a Nutshell
There are two conceptions of corporate personhood. The first simply bestows upon corporations the ability to engage in many legal actions (e.g. enter into contracts, sue, be sued, etc). This is widely accepted and we do not object to this.
However, corporate personhood also commonly refers to the Supreme Court – created precedent of corporations enjoying constitutional rights that were intended solely for human beings. We believe this form of corporate personhood corrupts our Constitution, and efforts to appropriately correct it are important. But such corrections must be done correctly – see our discussion here for why care is important.
Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution ever mention corporations, which were rare entities at our nation’s founding. But thanks to decades of rulings by Justices who molded the law to favor elite interests, corporations today are granted privileges that empower them to deny citizens the right to full self-governance. For example, the Supreme Court has:
- prohibited routine inspections of corporate property without a warrant or prior permission, even though scheduling such visits may permit a company to hide threats to public health and safety. (Marshall v Barlow’s, 1978)
- struck down state laws requiring companies to disclose product origins (International Dairy v. Amnestoy, [pdf] 1996), thus creating “negative free speech rights” for corporations and preventing us from knowing what’s in our food.
- prohibited citizens wanting to defend their local businesses and community from corporate chains encroachment from enacting progressive taxes on chain stores. (Liggett v. Lee, 1933)
- struck down state laws restricting corporate spending on ballot initiatives and referenda, enabling corporations to block citizen action through what, theoretically, is the purest form of democracy. (First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti).
The notorious 1886 case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad is just one in a long series of Supreme Court cases that entrenched “corporate personhood” in law. Justices since have struck down hundreds of local, state and federal laws enacted to protect people from corporate harm based on this illegitimate premise. Armed with these “rights,” corporations wield ever-increasing control over jobs, natural assets, politicians, even judges and the law.
We believe corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges citizens and their elected representatives willfully grant them. For-profit corporations have no business interfering in our political processes, but individuals have the right to assemble to affect government policy, and often they need to create a government recognized artificial entity to appropriately carry out their activities. Government should not be able to interfere with this except to “level the playing field” (see here for a more detailed discussion of this.)
2. History of the Corporation
Sourcewatch: Corporate Rights
This page explores the Supreme Court’s revolutionary and unconstitutional decision to asserting federal laws cannot limit corporate “speech.”
Abolish Corporate Personhood
This speech, given by Molly Morgan of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, follows the history of corporate power from the American Revolution to the present, showing how elites have used the Constitution, the Courts and the corporation to quash the rights of We the People.
The Democracy Crisis
In this PowerPoint presentation, Riki Ott–an Alaska marine biologist who fought Exxon for twenty years after the Valdez oil spill–shows that the spill was not just an ecological crisis, but a manifestation of a democracy crisis.
Corporatization: An Internal Clash of Civilizations
The authors write that, “Within the framework of U.S. constitutional law, in which personhood conveys fundamental protections against state action, the dubious doctrine of corporate personhood has allowed corporations to gain constitutional insulation from democratic control of corporate investment in key activities, including electioneering, lobbying, advertising, resource extraction, and manufacturing.”
The “Right” to Harm the Environment
Jan Edwards and Alis Valencia connect corporate personhood to the destruction of the environment, citing specific instances in which corporations used the Bill of Rights to harm the planet and communities.
Taking Care of Business
Richard Grossman explains the history of corporate rule and explains how states can use the corporate charter power to abolish illegitimate corporate “rights.”
The Essence of the Corporation
Ben Manski follows the legal history of the corporation from the ancient world to the early days of the Republic in order to understand its essence.
3. The Need for Constitutional Reform
Significant Cases in the Evolution of Corporate “Rights”
Reclaim Democracy has developed an excellent compendium of 20th century federal court decisions expanding federal protection for corporations.
This timeline by Jan Edwards lays out the cases that gave corporations the
rights of persons and compares it to the struggles for rights for actual
Establishing a Constitutional Right to Vote
Don’t Americans already have secure voting rights? In a word, no.
Voter Bill of Rights
The Voter Bill of Rights is a document embraced by hundreds of voting rights organizations. It was originally a product of the 2001 Democracy Summer program, following the election debacle of 2000. It was amended for the 2004 and 2008 No Stolen Elections! campaigns.
Why So Many Good State Laws Are “Unconstitutional”
Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris writes that, “Using the commerce clause, the “free trade” mantra of the time, they decided that states could not ban the manufacture, import, and sale of a substance that obviously many states wanted to ban. In other words [the] . . . . Supreme Court acted as a legislature.” But note that abolishing corporate constitutional rights will not affect this, since the commerce clause is about the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. A problem is that courts have interpreted the commerce clause in a corporate friendly manner, and Congress has not used its power to protect people from corporate harm.
A constitutional amendment could help to address this issue, but none that have been proposed do so. A possible amendment could make it clear that states and municipalities can have stricter regulations on business than federal regulations, unless Congress specifically disallows this for the particular class of regulations.
Municipal Government and Local Democracy
As provided by CELDF, J. Allen Smith informed us in 1907 that, “The powerful corporate interests engaged in the exploitation of municipal franchises are securely entrenched behind a series of constitutional and legal checks on the majority which makes it extremely difficult for public opinion to exercise any effective control over them.”
Why Regulation Alone Won’t Work
Regulatory agencies are often controlled by the industries they were formed to regulate. There is even a term for the phenomenon– “regulatory capture.” And a captured regulatory agency that serves the interests of the corporations that are supposed to regulate–with the power of the government behind them– is very often worse than no regulation whatsoever. Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris describes the history, and suggests what to do about it.
4. Building a Democracy Movement
In this video, Ben Manski, Diane Farsetta and Kevin Alexander Gray join the Progressive Magazine in addressing the challenge of extending democracy in the United States:
How and Why the People of Humboldt County Defended Local Democracy
Katilin Sopoci-Belknap, co-campaign manager the Measure T initiative banning corporate money in local elections, speaks at a community forum about the history of corporate power and how corporations hijacked the ability of communities to govern and defend themselves against abuse.
5. Reports and Commentary on Citizens United
Justices Turn Minor Movie Into Blockbuster Case by Adam Liptak
Money Grubbers by Rick Hasen
The Pinocchio Project by Dahlia Lithwick
Corporations Have No Business in Elections by Monica Youn