Corporate Personhood

Our nation was founded on the fundamental ideal of the rights of individuals. Our founding documents, our greatest idea as a nation was to establish the ultimate significance of “We the people.” The legacy of our founding fathers is that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

A simple understanding of the english language would allow anyone to conclude that our founders use of words like "people" and "[wo]men" clearly indicate that citizens are, well, people. This truth is self-evident.

If you are a religious person you might also consider that in the Declaration of Independence we find:

“to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.”

From this perspective it is again pretty easy to conclude that the “them” that “God entitled” would again be people. There was no corporation in the Garden of Eden nor any in any other religious tradition. Corporations are derived from government that in turn derives it's power from the people.

If political philosophy or religion don't work for you, then consider the following. Whose corporate high school graduation did you attend. Can you go to school with a corporation? Can the corporation attend your child's Christening? Do you take summer vacations to the beach with your favorite corporation from college? In what prison would you put a law breaking corporation? To what office would you elect a corporation? Has a family member recently married a very nice corporation and they just had a darling set of twins? The absurdity of these notions points out the absurdity of establishing corporations as citizens.

Not being a lawyer, I can only offer a simple understanding of the law, but it would seem extremely clear from our founding documents, that corporations are not citizens. There is no mention of corporations or businesses in our founding documents. Our revolution was to ensure the rights with which we have been endowed, we fought for our freedom, for our right of self determination, not for corporations. So crucial are the rights of individuals, that shortly after establishing our Constitution, our founders amended that document through the establishment of the Bill of Rights. Ensuring the preservation of the rights of individuals, not corporations, was their chief concern in their own time.

The argument is simple, the documents are clear, yet we find ourselves in a climate created by the voices on the right, where corporations, those with the most money are the most important citizens. While those who the nation was founded to protect, the people, have less and less power in their own democracy.

The core idea in founding our nation was to allow the people to exercise the rights and freedoms they naturally possess as citizens. How can modern citizens compete with corporations when they have such limited resources? How can democracy and our nation survive when the most powerful voices in our democracy are corporate non-citizens?

Yet again, the voices on the right are 180 degrees from what they actually mean, from what they actually do. They talk of freedom and love of country yet they take away the freedoms of the people, the freedoms the nation was founded upon, and they give that power to non-citizen corporations. The voices on the right condemn immigrants as if their families never immigrated to this country. They actively seek to limit immigrant rights to become American citizens while acting on behalf of corporations. They speak of individual liberty while promoting corporations to the level of citizens simply because they possess the most wealth and power.

In his dissenting opinion in the Citizens United case Justice Stevens said, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts and no desires.” No true conservative could support the notion that corporations and foreign interests should have the power and rights of citizens. No true conservative could deny that all of us are immigrants. No true conservative could deny that “we the people” should have our rights and privileges guarded and protected from all non-citizen interests especially corporations and foreign powers.

Yet the five conservatives on the Supreme Court determined that corporations should rightly possess the freedom of speech as if they were US citizens. The Supreme Court decision is not just logically flawed, it is tragically flawed with the darkest form of irony. We grant the government power so that it will protect us. All of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court comes from the power of we the people. That the very people to whom we entrusted our power would use that power against us to strengthen corporations at our expense is deeply troubling.

It's easy to see how this can happen. We only need recall that "power corrupts." In the case of corporations the power they wield is money. It's easy to forget that even this power is not theirs, but rather the people's. The very wealth they would use to influence our democracy has no value separate from the nation of our creation. Just as the government derives it's power from us, the corporations' ability to influence our government through wealth is derived entirely from us, both in our currency and in our decision to purchase their goods and services. Ultimately, we still possess the root power if only we would use it.

However, this problem extends beyond just the modern American right, it extends beyond corporations, the left too shares some of the blame. The left has failed to make the case in this fight. We have failed to take a stand. We find the people’s power being diminished not just by the wealth of corporations, but by the unlimited ability of corporations to use that wealth to influence our democracy. By anointing these new citizens the Supreme Court has weakened our nation through the transfer of power from the many people of this nation to the corporate few. We on the left have largely stood by and watched it happen.

To win this fight we will need citizens on both the right and the left to assert the rights “Nature’s god entitle them”. The left must begin to stand firm on these issues before the fight is lost. In so doing we may just find some true conservative voices with a similar interest in defending the nation’s constitution and thereby it’s citizens.