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Corporate Personhood in America, Essay Example

Pages: 7

Words: 2045

Essay

Should Corporations be considered persons?

Thesis:

The corporate personhood provision was enacted to define the manner in which corporations should conduct their business. It was not intended to be a tool of manipulation for corporations to use in order to increase their own power and influence.

The United States Supreme Court as far back as 1886, according to Gans (2010), began to incorporate the idea that corporations should be treated as persons during the case Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad, when the court reporter recorded the Chief Justice in that period, during his oral argument, emphatically stated that the Constitution protects corporations justas persons. However should corporations today be given the status of corporatepersonhood that was argued about nearly 125 years ago?

Corporations should not be considered as persons despite the definition put forward by Duhaime.Org (2011), which states that they are legal entities created under the authority  of  statutes that permit groups of persons acting as shareholders, to apply to government for independent organizations to be created  to pursue  specific objectives with legal rights which was previously reserved for individuals. These rights include ton sue and be sued, to own property, hire employees, and to loan and borrow money (Duhaime.Org, 2011).

The Boviers 1839 Dictionary also confirms that corporation should be treated as persons when it declare it is an artificial person created by law and composed of individuals who subsist in body politic under special denominations with  the capacity for perpetual succession and of acting within scope and character as natural person (Duhaime.Org, 2011).

Corporations by these definitions will be able to operate for several hundred years, making decisions legally, politically, economically and financially, despite changes in their structures by attritions due to deaths, resignations, and terminations.

It could be argued based on the definition given by Duhaime.Org2011), that corporations should be regarded as persons having rights like natural individuals to freedom of speech and equal voice in the affairs of the country, even from political perspectives. The provisions of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise or abridging the freedom of, or of the press, or the right of people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances, could also be used to strengthen the argument (Legal Information Institute, 2011).

However, Henken (1981), would put a different light on this argument when he postulate that this privilege should apply only to Human Rights situation, which the adherents to Covenant to Civil and Political rights are required to give to all individuals within their territories. The term “All individuals” according toHenken (1981),meant that only natural persons are protected by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and corporations and other legal entities have no legal rights.

According to Reclaim Democreacy.Org (2011), the Bill of Rights was the result of tremendous efforts to institutionalize and protect the rights of human beings. It also reinforce the premise that people are the root of all power and authority for government, but corporate lawyers inclusive of judges, have subverted the Bill of Rights in the late 1800’s, by establishing the doctrine of personhood; which mandate that they were intended to fully enjoy the legal status and protection specifically created for human beings (Reclaim Democracy.Org, 2011).

The Fourteenth Amendment, according to Hammerstrom (2002), was established to incorporate the Bill of Rights and impose legislation upon states to prevent infringements on property rights as well as to assure the political rights of newly freed slaves, but had been hijacked by corporations and used to consolidate their powers in the US and other parts of the world.

The extent of the abuse is reflected when the history of cases concerning the 14th Amendment and Corporate Personhood are examined.  According to Hammerstrom (2002), they provide valid reasons why corporations should not be considered as persons. The Supreme Court, according to Hammerstrom (2002) heard 150 cases since Plessey v., Ferguson in 1896, which established separate but equal, and only 15 involved blacks, while 135 had to do with business corporations seeking to gain legal status as corporate personhood.

Corporations have been able to amass phenomenal amount of wealth beyond the capability of millions of individuals, and are well positioned used the rights of free speech, according to Hammerstrom (2002), to capture the US legislative and regulatory agencies and impose their control on what laws may be passed to further strengthen their financial positions in the country.

An additional reason why corporations should not be considered as persons was the global effect it had after 150 years, according to Hammerstrom (2002). Thesecorporations lawyers have flooded the courts with their perspective of the law, and have caused a corporate culture to develop,  to the extent that it have been transferred to other countries in the form of the legal drafting of business documents. The documents often ensure overseas companies behave in similar manner to US corporations. In other words, these corporate organizations they have extended their control across borders by colonizing companies like The British Empire in the 17th Century and ensure high levels of profits are exported to them(Hammerstrom, 2002).

In the Supreme Court case Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission No. 08-205, the power of corporate personhood was struck down when the plaintiff Citizen United; a nonprofit organization, attempted to release a document called Hillary, which was critical of the then Senator Hillary Clinton who was vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination, according to Supreme Court.Gov (2010).

The corporation would have knowingly violated Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which prohibit corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures on speeches that expressly advocated defeat or election of candidates, and sought an injunction which the court denied, based on the precedent set by the case Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce No. 494 US. 652; in which the Supreme Court ruled that political speech may be banned when the speakers are found to have corporate identity (Supreme Court.Gov, 2010).

According to Supreme Court.Gov (2010), throughout the litigation Citizen United asserted its claim while acting in the role of a corporate personhood, that (a) its right to free speech was being violated by the Federal Exchange Commission, (b) that Section 441b as it related to Hillary and (c) the BCRA disclaimer disclosure and reporting requirements BCRA subsections 210 and 311 were unconstitutional.

The court after further hearing Citizen United arguments, which include the contention that Hillary was not electioneering communication because it was not widely distributed for broadcasting and that Austin v. Michigan was tantamount to speech suppression, ruled in favor of the Federal Exchange Commission. The reasons given  in summation include the conclusion that the ongoing chill of the speech had made it necessary to invoke earlier precedents that required such speech to invalidated, where facial invalidation was demonstrated (Supreme Court.Gov., 2011).

Freedom of speech was provided by the First Amendment for individuals, but severely exploited by corporate personhood before this case, struck down by the Supreme Court.The precedent should poignantly serve to reinforce the argument that corporations should not be granted personhood as they are likely to manipulate the legislations by using lobbyist to address their grievances and get special laws which are beneficial to them passed.

Meyers(2001), also support this position of not regarding corporations as persons by stating thatthey are legally fictitious in nature, and are a group of people that has lost their status as subjects of the government, yet endowed with court recognized rights that can influence elections and the law making process, while on their way to dominate the economy andUnited States Government.

The legality of corporations being treated as persons, was questioned by dissenting Justice Hugo Black in Connecticut General Life Insurance v. Johnson [303 U.S. 77 1938] and Justice Douglas in Wheeling Steel Corporation V. Glander [337 U.S.562, 1949],according to Meyer (2001).

Justice Black, after observing the rape of the democratic rights of the citizens of the state in this case, remarked that if the people of the nation wish to deprive the states of their sovereign rights to determine what is fair and just, and just lax it upon corporations doing purely local business within their own states boundaries, there is a way provided in the constitution to do so, but this way does not lie along the course of judicial amendments (Meyer, 2001).

The fact that both justices gave almost the same response 11 years apart,points to the continuous assault of corporations on the legislative system, with the Supreme Court quite complicit in the process as the democratic and civil rights of citizens areeroded significantly.      Granting personhood to corporations according to Meyer (2001), had resulted for example, in the consolidation of the media form bookstores to cable television empires and sadly places many Americans in chains, because these powerful individuals leading these entities were able to stifle individual liberties by driving out small and local businesses, and replacing them with hundreds of their own cloned stores.

Corporations that are able to flex their muscles as corporate personhood are also free to perpetuate excessive greed, selfishness, monopolistic and duopolistic tendencies with total disregard for naturally born human beings.

This danger of legally regarding corporations as persons was demonstrated in the case Liggert v. Lee [288 U.S. 517 1933], where the State of Florida had imposed a progressive new business registration filing fee of $5 per person and $30 for large chains according to Meyer (2001).

J.C. Penny acting in the role of corporate personhood challenged the law and the Supreme Court ruled in its favor, according to Meyer (2001), that its 14th Amendment principles of equal protection had been violated.  The corporation, by its action and the ruling obtained had clearly used the provisions of the 14th Amendment to successfully enact laws and regulations that increased its position and influence and in the process rendered small business operators uncompetitive and obsolete overtime.

Corporations,as a result of actions like that of J.C Penny, will also contribute significantly to increase in unemployment, greater levels of insecurity in their operating environment as well as poverty in the United States and beyond.

Changing the scenario and restoring democracy to the people, according to Meyer (2011), would require revocation of the laws that relate to the privilege of personhood, but this would be extremely difficult, due to the massive wealth of many of these corporations and that fact that they constantly use significant amounts to finance lobbyists in Washington, to fight on their behalf to get new laws passed or to prevent any possible repeal.

Conclusions

Corporations should not be regarded as persons, based on the havoc that they have caused in the economy, the political systems, and the legislature as well as in the general society after 150 years, especially the number of citizens that they have driven out of business, denied fair prices, given unjust laws to comply with, rendered uncompetitive, bonded by repressive contracts as well as overseas companies that have been practically colonized.  These colonized  overseas companies are often subjected business agreements that are skewed in directions that only ensure high profit levels for parent companies but  minimal returns for their business partners, and are thus under bondage to US corporations.

Sustained actions to remove the giants like the Wheeling Steel Company, Connecticut General Life Insurance and the J. C Penny’s among others, will have to  begin at grass root levels and should include education of the public, lawsuits, legislation and use of the media where possible to expose unfair practices and their consequences.

Hopefully, they will overtime get the attention of the wider media and the Supreme Court, who as major players, will eventually change their positions and provide coverage and court rulings that will have greater influence, impact and power than the so far dominant corporations.

Reference

Duhaime.org. (2011).  Corporation Definition Legal Dictionary www.duhaime.org/legaldictionary/c/corporation , 11/10/11

Gans, D.G. (2010). Citizen United Corporate Personhood and Consultationwww.acslaw.org/acsblog/citizen-personhood-and-the-constitution, 11/21/11

Hammerstrom, D. (2002). The High Jacking of 14th Amendmentwww.reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/fourteenth_amendment_hammerstrom.pdf , 11/10/11

Henkin, L. (1981). The International Bill of Rights Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Columbia University Press New York, NY

Legal Information Institute (2011). First Amendment Cornell University Law School www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment , 11/10/11

Meyer, W. (2001). The Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus Democracywww.reclaimdemocracy.org/pdf/primer/santa_clara_blues.pdf , 11/11/11

Reclaim Democracy.Org (2011). Introduction to Corporate Personhood www.reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/ 11/11/11

Supreme Court.Gov (2011). Citizen United V. Federal Election Commission No. 08-205 October Term 2009   www.supremecourt.gov/opinion/091.pdf/08.205.pdf , 11/11/11

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