8 Words That Could Save Our Country
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Corporate lawyers must have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the headnote appeared and was taken as precedent because they knew the Court would it impossible to make a case for corporate personhood. The Constitution doesn’t mention corporations. The American Revolution was, in part, catalyzed by hatred of corporations. As Tea Partyers should know by now, the Boston Tea party was not a protest against government or taxes. It was a protest against a huge private corporation that had been exempted from taxes in order to gain a competitive advantage against domestic suppliers. And how were the Justices going to get around the clear language of the 14th Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…”
Throughout the 19th century corporations were highly regulated by and subservient to states. By 1886 a populist wave of anger against corporations was sweeping the country, ushering in the first generation of anti-trust legislation.
No, the Supreme Court never made the case for corporate personhood because it couldn’t. It simply assumed it and we continue to live with the consequences. Some 65 years later Justice William O. Douglas observed, "the Santa Clara case becomes one of the most momentous of all our decisions. Corporations were now armed with constitutional prerogatives." And they made the most of these new prerogatives.
The 14th Amendment, written to protect weak and largely defenseless ex-slaves, was mostly used to protect big and powerful corporations. Of the 150 cases based on the 14th amendment the Supreme Court heard between 1886 and 1896, 15 involved blacks and l35 involved business entities.
In the next 20 years, relying on the 1886 “precedent” the Supreme Court steadily expanded the number of Constitutional rights accorded to this new type of person. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) offers a partial list: in 1893 the Court accorded corporations the right of due process under the 5th Amendment. In 1906 it extended to them the protection against search and seizure in the 4th Amendment. In 1908 it extended to corporations the 6th Amendment right to a trial by jury.
By the 1940s Justice Felix Frankfurter could accurately declare, “Artificial or not, corporations have won more rights under law than people have– rights which government has protected with armed force.”
Imagine if the President had used the bully pulpit at the State of the Union to tell the truth about corporate personhood the week after the Supreme Court gave corporations the right to dominate elections. He didn’t but he still can and the Democratic Party still can, because if is the most important issue of our times.
Money equals speech
The issue of money and speech is separate from the issue of corporate personhood and deserves its own constitutional amendment, although the two issues are related because corporations have the most money and therefore benefit the most from the Court’s 1976 ruling that money is speech.
In that decision, the Court allowed campaign limits on direct contributions but not on indirect contributions. The First Amendment’s free speech rights protected political expenditures. As long as expenditures were not funneled through the candidate or the candidate's campaign, they would be allowed.
Money has always been important in politics, but today we can without fear of contradiction say that money rules politics. The Center for Responsive Politics puts the total cost of the 2008 elections for Congress and the White House at $5.3 billion, including spending by candidates, national political parties and outside issue advocacy groups. A USA TODAY analysis of campaign contributions in 2007-2008 identified 175 members of Congress who received half or more of their campaign cash from 4600 political action committees (PACs) spawned by the 1976 ruling.