Monday, October 17, 2011

"I won't believe corporations are people until Texas executes one."

Is she the OWS genius
who first had this insight?
 The Dayton version
This delectable slogan goes to the heart of the cocomanie notion that corporations are people. Corporate personhood (and artificial personhood) is how lawyers refer to this idea. [Move to Amend is looking to reverse the 2010 U. S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people, from the standpoint that corporations, like people, have a right to free speech.]

The immortality of corporations - that fact that Texas will never execute one - has a lot to do with the gap between the 99% and the 1% that informs OWS. This Support Corporate Personhood Facebook page supports C.P.P on the ground that "corporations are groups of people". In this Wall Street Journal op ed piece, former General Electric Jack Welsh goes all out in support of this idea.

Moneywise, being immortal is a terrific thing. Whereas the much of the net worth of mortals is subject to estate taxes at death, corporate net worth goes untouched because corporations never die (though they're dissolved when they fail financially). So let's bounce around the Internet a bit to pick up a few things about corporate personhood.

Wikipedia nicely covers the pros and cons of corporate personhood in this useful entry. This short piece at How Stuff Works sums up the debate over corporate personhood that began at between Hamilton and Jefferson in the 1780's at the time of the framing of the Constitution.

Opposing the business-friendly Hamilton, Jefferson predicted (foresaw?) that corporations, if granted the legal status of personhood as eventually did happen after the Civil War in 1868 with the passing of the 14th amendment, would gain influence far surpassing that of mortal voters. OWS is reviving this debate today. So Is progressive activist and radio talk show host Thom Hartman.
Jefferson despised the very idea.
Supreme Court Justice
Stephen Field: tool
of the railroads
in the 1870's?
On the anti-corporation side of this debate, Reclaim Democracy has lots of information, including proposed amendments to the Constitution that would deny corporations the status of personhood. Here's Occupy Together's interactive map listing dozens of OWS meetup groups that oppose corporate personhood.

I stumbled on some interesting history. This piece by Ryan Grim and Mike Sachs at Huff Post describes the efforts of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field in the 1870's as instrumental to establishing in American law the notion of corporate personhood.  They see Justice Field as a tool of the powerful railroad lobby. On the other hand, Wikipedia's entry on Justice Field makes little mention of Field's ties to the railroads. It sees him as a colorful if violent man who pioneered legislation strengthening the legal concept of due process. Wikipedia observes that "During his time on the Supreme Court of California, Field had a special coat made with pockets large enough to hold two pistols so that he could shoot at his various enemies through the pockets.[5] " Wikipedia's entry on the key Supreme Court ruling on corporate personhood - its 1886 railroad-friendly ruling re Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad - mentions Field only as a Associate Justice of the Court that made this ruling.

In making the case for Field's contributions to the idea of corporate personhood, Grim and Sachs refer to Jack Beatty's The Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900. Looks like a great book.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the status of corporate personhood that was its most important since its 1886 ruling. The Court ruled against Citizens United, a (surprisingly) "conservative non-profit organization"(Wikipedia) that opposes corporate personhood. The Citizens United site features five women, including Ann Coulter and Michele Bachmann. For more information on the Supreme Court ruling against Citizens United, see this site at the Chicago Kent College of Law. Wikipedia info is here. At the conservative Heritage Foundation site, Hans von Spakovsky writes here that 2010 Supreme Court  ruling against Citizens United was a victory for free speech.

I need time to get a handle on this Citizens United ruling. But I gotta run. This post was supposed to take 20 minutes, not three hours!

No comments: