Did you know Corporations are people too, and that they have a right to free speech (which of course equals money), even though they can’t speak. Why someday, Corporations may even be given the right to vote!
For most of our Nation’s history, Supreme Court doctrine comported with the Constitution’s text and history. Governments created corporations and conferred on them special privileges to encourage investment and economic growth, but, in the words of Chief Justice Marshall in the famous Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward case, corporations were “artificial being[s], invisible, intangible, and existing only in the contemplation of the law. 1 Corporations were neither “citizens nor part of “We the People. A corporation was a “creature of the law that did not possess inalienable human rights, but rather “only those properties which the charter of creation confer on it. 2 Corporate interests were protected in some ways, of course ”for example, corporations could assert rights under provisions like the Constitution’s Contract Clause, which prohibits states from “impairing private contracts “ but corporations could be extensively regulated to ensure that they did not abuse the special privileges and protections governments conferred on them that were not shared by individuals.
This was the settled understanding both before the Civil War, and after, when the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, requiring states to respect the fundamental rights of all Americans. This settled understanding was thrown into question in 1886 when the Court’s decision in Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.3 appeared to announce ”because of the court reporter’s note ” that corporations were “persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The Supreme Court’s actual opinion never reached the constitutional question in the case, but the court reporter “ himself a former railroad man “ took it upon himself to insert into his published notes Chief Justice Waite’s oral argument statement that the Fourteenth Amendment protects corporations. Through this highly irregular move, bereft of any reasoning or explanation, the idea that corporations had the same rights as individuals “ for some purposes at least “ was introduced into constitutional law. In the 1920s and 1930s “ as the nation was roiled by the Great Depression “ many speculated that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment had “smuggled into the Amendment “a capitalist joker, 4 giving corporations special rights and protections under an Amendment ratified to secure equal citizenship for living Americans, but it is now clear that this joker was created by the court reporter and developed by the Lochner era Supreme Court.
Corporate personhood has been reaffirmed over the last Century, but has been somewhat constrained by campaign finance laws passed by Congress, at least until those Conservative activist justices (Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts) ignored precedents with yesterday’s ruling. Corporations (as well as Unions and special interest groups) can essentially shovel unlimited amounts of money into the election process. Given that the candidate with the most money usually wins, the winner is decided by whoever has the deepest pockets, which is never the voter.
This is also nothing new “ Conservatives have been preparing for this moment for 40-years, starting with the Powell Memo authored by then right-wing activist and eventual Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. [wiki] in 1971.
Although its influence is disputed, the framework Powell established was executed smartly by the Conservative movement, undermining academia, conning the poor and middle-class to vote against their own self-interest, created the think tanks that dream up foreign adventures at the expense of other’s blood and the taxpayers treasure, starting the Culture Wars, and allowing corporations to take over the political process.
The cruelest irony? The Constitutional Amendment that granted equal protection to the newly freed slaves subsequently shackles us to a corporate master.
Not sure what all of this means to you? As usual, a comedian will lead us through the darkness:
Forget about Ted Kennedy’s seat, tea baggers, Scott Brown, smacking down bankers, and healthcare reform. THIS is the important news of the week. For all the talk of socialism, what you have just seen what amounts to a codification of the corporate welfare state.
The hope is that the internet will allow people to easily see what Corporation gave which politician money, and how it influenced legislation. Based on the track record, I’m not getting my hopes up, and I have no confidence that ‘the people’ would have the interest or ability to find out.