Nowhere are corporations mentioned in The Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution was 32 years old before the Supreme Court even dealt with its first case regarding a private, for-profit corporation (Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, 1819) under the contracts clause of Article I, Section 10 (“No State shall… pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”). It was the conservatively activist court of the period following the War Between the States which changed the landscape of corporate law in the United States with a dictum by Chief Justice Morrison Waite in his opinion on Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) stating that corporations were ‘persons’ as meant by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment (… nor shall any State deprive any ‘person’ of life liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any ‘person’ within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.)
Between 1890 and 1937, VERY activist courts that were VERY conservative and pro-business weakened the ability of employees, customers, state legislatures and labor unions to challenge the power of corporations in the United States. Even under more liberal courts, corporations have been given additional rights of ‘persons’, such as with 1978’s National Bank vs. Bellotti decision which protected corporate ‘political speech’ under the 1st Amendment. In all ways, corporations in the United States are legal ‘persons’ under The Constitution which means that, in The United States, certain stacks of signed documents are the same as, and have the same rights under the law as any living, breathing flesh and blood ‘person’ does. Isn’t it time to challenge the legal and logical fallacies of this position?
A human ‘person’ is born. You can say that a corporation is born, also, but a corporation does not go through a childhood or minority in which it is raised and educated before it is given rights and powers of equal standing with an adult. There is no consideration of childhood for a corporation and yet for a human person, the importance of childhood cannot be minimized. Children can be required to attend school and be subjected to curfews that do not apply to adults. Children are restricted in purchasing or using things with which they might harm themselves or others through restrictions which do not apply to adults (alcohol, tobacco, guns, etc.). Children cannot legally gamble or enter into contracts. Children can be restricted from accessing information which other adults can freely access (pornography and restricted movies are two examples of this). Children cannot vote and their rights of assembly can be limited. Children cannot work or earn their own money except as specifically provided for by law. Childhood places very real restrictions and limitations on human ‘persons’ before they are given all of the rights and privileges of an adult. In addition, under The Constitution, there are even further restrictions on age… no ‘person’ can be elected to a Constitutional office until they have the achieved the age of 25, 30 or 35 (depending on the particular office). Corporations have no equal burdens placed upon them; rather they enter the world as full adults, like Venus rising out of the sea in a shell or Athena springing from the head of Zeus.
A human ‘person’ is responsible for their own actions. A human ‘person’ who breaks a law and is brought before a court to answer to justice will be the one who pays a fine or goes to jail. Felons also have restrictions placed upon them for the rest of their lives. A corporate ‘person’ cannot be jailed. A corporate ‘person’ can also just make changes in their management or their Board of Directors and make a claim for leniency or exception which a human ‘person’ who is sane cannot make… “It wasn’t us, it was others, and they aren’t here now”. Such a claim made by a human ‘person’ would be considered proof of very real and very serious mental illnesses. While individuals who work for a corporation can be held accountable for some of their actions (keep in mind, the purpose of incorporation is to shield individuals from personal liability or accountability to the public), a corporation itself cannot be imprisoned. Further, while a corporation might be fined or otherwise punished by a court, the people who made decisions can go elsewhere and continue as they have. Like a coach of a team which is sanctioned by the NCAA, if the coach can just get a job elsewhere, the sanctions don’t follow him. Corporations can further shield themselves by creating other corporations which they own and control but which protect the greater corporation from financial or legal liability.
A human ‘person’ has duties to perform in their society. A human ‘person’ can be called to serve on a jury as provided for in The Constitution. A human ‘person’ can enlist in, or even be conscripted into a military service and sent to die for their country. A human ‘person’ can run for political office to help fulfill the needs of leadership of their governments at all levels. No corporate ‘person’ is capable of fulfilling the obligations or duty of service to their country of an individual.
A human ‘person’ dies. How long can a human ‘person’ be part of the workforce? How long can they provide for themselves and make their own decisions? How long can a human ‘person’ keep death at bay? While a corporation might go belly up, or be bought or just end by a decision of those at the top, a corporation, a corporate ‘person’, has no natural lifespan and can, in principle, go on living forever… maybe a restructuring here and there or a name change but, none-the-less, the same legal ‘person’.
The logical case against considering corporations to be ‘persons’ could fill a book, however, there is also a legal flaw which should be addressed within the Constitutional framework of accepting corporations as ‘persons’… a ‘person’ can’t be owned in the United States.
The idea of corporations as ‘persons’ was ‘found’ by the Court in the 14th Amendment. If the 14th Amendment makes them ‘persons’ under The Constitution, doesn’t the 13th Amendment also apply to them? (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”) Now, go to any dictionary you can find and look up, in order, slavery and slave. I’ll wait.
No ‘person’ can own another ‘person’ in the United States. Therefore, if a corporation IS a legal ‘person’ under the protection and jurisdiction of The Constitution, doesn’t that mean that they can’t be owned, and that they cannot own other ‘persons’ (i.e. – other corporations). If The Constitution applies to the Corporate ‘person’, doesn’t that mean that the WHOLE Constitution applies to them?
Rhys M. Blavier
“Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all Honor”
© copyright 2008 by Rhys M. Blavier
Thank you for reading this article. Please read my other articles and let me know what you think. I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.