Thursday, November 10, 2011

In what respect are "corporations not people"? (An inquiry in to lefty ignorance) 

In one of the various recent stories about the growing depravity of the #Occupy demonstrations, there is a picture of a demonstrator with a "corporations are not people" sign. This slogan is popping up with some regularity among my many lefty -- or at least non-righty -- Facebook friends, and the abolition of corporate "personhood" is the subject of a new campaign among lefty activist groups.

It is not precisely clear whether this is a genuine attempt to change the law -- the movement seems to be particularly offended by the Citizens United case, which overturned certain campaign finance regulation that restricted speech by corporations -- or a publicity stunt designed to energize the left against business and its backers in the 2012 elections. The argument seems to be that corporations ought not have constitutional rights because they are creatures of law and not biology, and that the rights of the constitution "ought" to apply to living, breathing people. All very romantic, but what does it mean?

Let's roll through the Bill of Rights and explore the implications of stripping corporations of constitutional rights.

The First Amendment

Should a state be able to preclude a religious corporation -- Catholic Charities, Inc., for example -- from practicing its religion? Should the New York Times Company have freedom of the press, or speech. Should we strip Democracy Now, Inc., of its right to petition government for redress of grievances?

The Second and Third Amendments

I'm willing to agree that we can deprive corporations of the right to bear arms, and in a pinch we ought to be able to billet troops on corporate property. So I suppose I agree with the "corporations are not people" movement in some respect!

The Fourth Amendment

Much as I would enjoy watching a warrantless search of the offices of the New York Times or MSNBC, I suspect that the left would be pretty upset if their corporate allies in the media were no longer safe in their persons, places, and effects.

The Fifth and Sixth Amendments

Shall we allow the prosecution of corporations for the same offense until a conviction is obtained, or do we think that they should be free from double jeopardy? Should we be able to confiscate corporate property without due process or just compensation? I suppose many lefties would think so, right up until somebody confiscated the copyright for their shitty novel from the publishing corporation that is paying them royalties. And, if you believe that corporations are not persons, they should have no right to hire lawyers in their defense when accused of a crime, or to cross-examine witnesses against them.

It seems to me that depriving corporations of the rights in the 5th and 6th Amendments gives powerful new tools to governments that want to control our society absolutely, but inside every lefty there is a totalitarian waiting to burst out and order us around, so perhaps this is not surprising.

The Seventh and Eighth Amendments

No right to a jury? Allow for "excessive fines"? It would not take much to shut down the New York Times Company these days...

Of course, lefties often argue that one does not need to form a corporation to publish a newspaper, for example, or raise money to campaign against carbon emissions. True, but good luck finding people who want to take on the personal and bottomless liabilities of partnership to do those things.

Is the "corporations are not people" movement ignorant, or just pandering to ignorant people? It is a little hard to tell.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Nov 10, 08:21:00 AM:


By Blogger Lemming Master, at Thu Nov 10, 10:03:00 AM:

Excellent question and points. Under the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, individuals, whether parts of organizations or not, are entitled to equal protection (as solidified in 14th amendment).

We Won't Let America Die

By Blogger darovas, at Thu Nov 10, 11:49:00 AM:

Are you saying that corporations should be permitted to withhold evidence that might be self-incriminating under the Fifth Amendment? That corporations have a right to bear arms? That corporations can be imprisoned? That they can represent other citizens in Congress? Would you let your daughter marry a corporation?

The history of corporate personhood is largely grounded in issues of contract and tax law. It is legally convenient to consider corporations as persons in certain business matters, but that hardly means that corporations should receive all the constitutional protections that real people do.

As someone once said, I'll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.  

By Anonymous alanstorm, at Thu Nov 10, 11:53:00 AM:

The "corporations are not people" movement are simply dispalying, yet again, that the celebrated "nuance" and "critical thinking" so often claimed by the left is mere wishful thinking.

The real question is "Are they as dumb as a box of rocks, a bag of hammers?" It can't be both...can it?  

By Blogger Bohemian, at Thu Nov 10, 01:02:00 PM:

I wonder if the "corporations are not people" sorts feel the same way about unions? It would not be an apple vs orange argument but more of a granny smith vs macintosh and to be consistent, they would need to say yes.  

By Blogger Stephen, at Thu Nov 10, 01:29:00 PM:

The way to dispose of the Occupy argument is to say, "I agree with you," and move on.

1) The 13th amendment banished slavery. What is slavery but the ownership of one human being by another? I own pieces of Apple, AT&T, and Chevron. Thankfully, the 13th amendment does not apply to corporations.

2) No matter how well individuals take care of themselves, they will die. Corporations which take care of themselves can live forever.

3) Keeping with that theme, parent corporations have absolute power of life and death over their children (subsidiaries).

4) To darovas (whom I otherwise agree with): Texas may not have executed corporations but the FDIC does it every month.

5) OTOH, TSA can remove / look through a lady's veil, but the veil of a corporation may as well be an iron curtain. No signs yet protesting this injustice.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Nov 10, 01:51:00 PM:

Darovas: That's a whole bunch of stupidity. They don't receive all constitutional protections, and never have. Many, such as the right against self-incrimination (much like your marriage 'example;' simply being a "person" does not allow you to marry), are simply inapplicable. Moreover, TH's original post said as much.

But since you didn't actually address anything written there at all I doubt that you read and/or understood it. There's certainly no evidence of it. You simply have declared the concept to be ridiculous and expect your righteous assertion to stand on its own. It does not.

"The history of corporate personhood is largely grounded in issues of contract and tax law."

This is misleading, and pretty obviously based on a cursory glance at Wikipedia (where you even stole the cute little quotation about Texas executing one). States, which were responsible for chartering corporations, offered personhood and protections against arbitrary action v. corporations from the earliest days of the republic. Corporate personhood significantly predates the United States in the form of various chartered companies under the European monarchies and in the Netherlands. It only became a FEDERAL matter after the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, and corporations were quickly recognized as protected persons thereunder.

Strangely, there were no mass protests against this bizarre concept, ruthlessly inserted into US jurisprudence by trust and oligopolist puppets in black robes.

"As someone once said, I'll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one."


Does this kind of self-righteous sarcasm, backed by the awesome might of Wikipedia, carry one far in the world of physics? If so, I think I'll start dallying there and making blanket assertions on quantum mechanics, et al, because I will be absolutely certain that I know what I'm talking about.  

By Blogger darovas, at Thu Nov 10, 02:04:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger darovas, at Thu Nov 10, 02:13:00 PM:

The quote has been all over the internet, dawnfire (try googling it - doh!) Behold! Yea, behold!

Apparently you are the one who is regurgitating from Wikipedia.

At any rate, it is good that you agree corporations do not receive all constitutional protections. That is because they are not people. The question is what protections should they receive.

If corporations do not possess the right against self-incrimination, i.e. if they are limited in the legal maneuvers they can bring to bear in their own defense, why should they not also be limited in their political contributions? Can you give us a good reason?  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Thu Nov 10, 02:20:00 PM:

I expect to see lots of ads starting in the summer of 2012 repeating footage of Republican nominee Mitt Romney declaring that "Corporations are people my friend!" Mitt won't be the one using the footage.

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?"
Answer: No.

"Corporations are people" doesn't compute. Corporations are treated as "persons" for lots of legal purposes. It's a useful fiction.

Giving associations of people -- including corporations -- status under the Constitution is a means to further the civil rights protected thereby. To not do this when appropriate would limit the civil rights protected thereby. e.g., the NRA on the Second Amendment; the Sierra Club on the environment.

Allowing unions to spend money on campaigns, but not corporations, isn't fair. Period.

But insisting that "corporations are people" is bad political optics. They are and they aren't. To insist they are makes one sound like a corporate tool (not that there's anything wrong with that). But that's the last thing Mitt should sound like (even though he is).

In a populist dogfight, Community Organizer beats Corporate Tool.

If you gave me the Republican nomination I could beat Obama. But there's at least a million people who could. Mitt may not be one of them.

It actually doesn't help Mitt if he's effectively handed the nomination before Groundhogs Day.

Developing .....  

By Blogger darovas, at Thu Nov 10, 02:58:00 PM:

Just to be clear, my problem with the OP is that it presumes those who reject corporate personhood are in favor of "stripping corporations of constitutional rights". That is highly disingenuous. Perhaps some extremists on the left would favor warrantless searches of corporate property, but I suspect the majority of those critics of the Citizens United decision would hardly go that far. Yes, corporations should be able to exercise "free speech", but with certain limitations. Even the free speech of individuals is subject to limitations. So it is a question of degree, and of how laws originally conceived as pertaining to individuals should be applied to corporations.

For example, I'm not sure that corporations should be allowed a jury trial in all instances. There are many highly complex matters of business law that juries are simply unable to comprehend. In many cases, a corporate litigant would, I imagine, vastly prefer that their case be tried by a special panel of legal and business experts, or by a single judge with relevant knowledge and experience. How can a jury of laypeople reasonably be expected to deliberate on complex issues in technology and patent law when Apple sues Samsung? (From what I understand, it both parties agree a case can be tried by a judge, but what happens if one side feels it has a better chance at bamboozling a jury?)

I haven't thought much about it, but off the cuff I could also imagine that double jeopardy rules ought not to apply to corporations - or at least that they ought to be modified in some way.

It's easy to leap from the quite outrageous assumption that opponents of corporate personhood want to strip corporations of all constitutional protections to the charge that leftists are ignorant. But is such tendentious partisanship and demonization really helpful? In this sense, it seems like TH is engaging in the very pandering he decries. It would have been better (IMHO) had he pointed out that certain constitutional protections do make sense for corporations, and that this understanding establishes some common ground for liberals and conservatives.

Remember that the Supreme Court had many times upheld the century-old congressional ban on corporate contributions to federal political campaigns. This is the issue at the crux of the debate - not excessive fines or warrantless searches or the right to jury trials, etc.

I agree with this.  

By Blogger darovas, at Thu Nov 10, 03:02:00 PM:

By the way Ignoramus, I agree that the political influence of unions should also be curtailed.  

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