The Supreme Court Sold Out Our Democracy -- How to Fight the Corporate Takeover of Our Elections
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And in the first few, the Court just rejected out of hand. And that was until 1886. And so we started digging into it, and wondered, who the hell was this Steven J. Field guy?’
Field had basically two allies on the Supreme Court, plus Davis, who had no vote. And so we started digging into the Steven J. Field collection at the National Archives, and we found correspondence between him and the railroads that I don't think anybody had looked at in 100 years, if ever. In some of them, the railroad barons were in some cases implicitly, and in one case rather explicitly saying that if he could get them this corporate personhood, they would sponsor him to run for President of the United States in the election of 1888, I think it was, or maybe 1892.
And he didn't actually succeed. In fact, Steven J. Field actually wrote a dissent in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad , in which he loudly complained about the fact that they hadn’t established corporate personhood. And you'd think somebody would read the damned thing!! You know?
JH: So we have this ...
TH: What you had was a corrupted Supreme Court, and it had been corrupted by these very, very wealthy and powerful guys who ran the railroads and who were the richest men in America. And you know, that led to what we have now, which is this kind of corporate aristocracy. And there's a direct line between the two.
JH: So let's bring it from the 19th century into the late 20th and 21st. I just want to kind of get a brief sense, if you can give me a couple of examples of how modern multinationals have used this principle in recent years to push back on regulation, etc.
TH: Sure. Nike argued that they had the right to lie in advertising, because they had a 1st Amendment right of speech. That was ultimately, I guess, arguably decided in Citizens United . There was a chemical company that argued that the EPA invaded their 4th Amendment right of privacy by photographing them -- from the air -- making illegal chemical discharges. There had been a number of cases where giant agricultural operations, toxic waste operations, and large chain stores have argued that keeping them out of a neighborhood or community is the same thing as telling a black person he can't sit at a lunch counter. In other words they claimed their 14th Amendment rights. There have been a number of cases over the years where corporations have claimed that they have the right against self-incrimination.
You know, the original corporate laws, when corporations were created in the early 19th century, their books had to be totally public for the mid part of the 19th century, they had to be totally available to the Secretary of State in each state in which they were incorporated. But since the early 20th century they have been able to claim 4th Amendment privacy rights.
JH: Now, a quick aside. Did you catch a story about the town of Monroe, Maine, rejecting corporate personhood? They passed a local ordinance?
TH: Yes. There have been over 100 communities in the United States that have done this. So yes, there have been a lot of communities that have done this. There has not been a case where a community has made this law and it has been challenged and it has been taken to the Supreme Court. What happens more often is that the communities pass the laws, the corporation comes in and says "Okay, we're going to fight you in court." The community looks at what the legal costs are going to be, and the community then repeals the law. And it's happened numerous times.