Should Corporations Have the Rights of Persons?

scales_of_justice2While watching the riveting debate between Floyd Abrams and Trevor Potter on Bill Moyers’ latest and probably most important program ever, concerning the upcoming Supreme Court case, “Citizens United vs Federal Election Commisson” (which deals with the legality under McCain-Feingold of corporate funding of an anti-Hillary campaign movie), I had the melancholy fantasy that if only the Founders had foreseen the overwhelming power of today’s corporations to corrupt our political system with money, they would surely have erected a constitutional barrier between corporation and state as mighty (though besieged) as that between church and state.

Just as the church-state barrier has given us the most robust and diverse religious culture in the world, so would a corporation-state barrier give us a robust and healthy corporate culture (dedicated to profits), not to mention a healthier political culture (dedicated to the common weal, and not, as now, overly influenced by corporate financial power).

As Trevor Potter points out, corporations …

… exist to make money. They are profit-maximizing. That’s their job.

So, we’re not talking about political speech by people who care about their country, who are concerned about changes in society, who are dealing fairly with friends and neighbors and all the things that get involved in politics. We’re talking about a potential spender here that has a single-minded purpose, which is to make more money, to maximize their value. And I think what we’re looking at here is not a First Amendment speech right, because the individuals who head those corporations have that now, their PAC’s have it now, their shareholders have it now. We’re talking about using the funds that are amassed under the preferential corporate treatment, to go out and seek economic gain, what they call economic rents, through legislation, by electing people who will give the corporation what it wants, whether or not is in the greater good. And I don’t think that’s the essence of democracy. And I don’t think it has been or should be the way the First Amendment is read.

As you watch the Moyers program, remember that everything that Abrams says is predicated on the doctrine of  corporate personhood, the proposition — already established in law, possibly by accident — that corporations have many (if not most) of the same constitutional rights as persons. A good background article on how this doctrine came into being in our legal system can be found in this interview with Thom Hartmann.

If the United States Supreme Court decides in favor of the plaintiff, a vast increase in the already huge and corrupting power of corporations over our political life will occur.

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  1. […] September 7th, I posted this article about Bill Moyers’ recent program about a current Supreme Court case — Citizens United […]

  2. […] written twice recently (here and here) about the percolating issue of  ”corporate personhood.” Why do I say this is […]



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