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2.18.05
Politics and Economy:
Debating Corporate Rights
More on This Story:
Voices from the Debate

The debate over the Constitutional rights of corporations is fervent. It centers around the idea "corporate personhood". The issues under discussion are complex. As Jamin B. Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University has noted:

Any serious campaign [to revoke the personhood of the corporations] will require us to decide whether media corporations should lose their 1st Amendment liberties and whether corporate wealth could be taken by the government without recourse. Is corporate personhood an all-or-nothing proposition? Can due process property protections attach to stock without corporate managers also enjoying the right to become political kingmakers with corporate treasuries?

Below are some voices from the debate and links for more information. Head to the message boards to discuss your thoughts on the topic.

Against Corporate PersonhoodFor Corporate Personhood
"The Constitution at no point mentions corporations...The framers very well understood the use of a corporation to assume power and subdue democracy...Political power is a zero-sum game. If corporations are wielding more of it, that's that much less that individuals wield."

- Jeff Milchen, director of ReclaimDemocracy.org, a nonprofit that opposes constitutional rights for companies, quoted in THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"Corporations are a bunch of rich guys who have gotten together...They have a lot of money and they have a lot of influence. But why is that different from Bill Gates?"

- Ashutosh Bhagwat, constitutional law professor, San Francisco's Hastings College of Law, quoted in THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"These corporate 'persons' have been given many superhuman qualities. They have infinite life spans, reside simultaneously in many nations, create their own parents, and cut off parts of themselves to form new entities. They cannot go to jail for committing a crime, and do not need fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, or safe food to eat. These and other extraordinary qualities-combined with constitutional protections intended for natural persons-have enabled large transnational businesses to acquire enormous wealth and political power that is used by a few to rule over many."

- "The Abuses of Corporate Personhood, Brian Lane, USA TODAY, May, 1 2004

"[The civil rights of the business community] include the First Amendment right to speak truthfully on commercial matters, the Fifth Amendment protection against uncompensated government confiscation of private property, the right to engage in business without unnecessary government regulation, and the right to maintain the privacy of trade secrets and internal corporate affairs in the absence of an overriding public interest in disclosure."

- The Washington Legal Foundation

"In the 1800s, corporations gradually dismantled those barriers, and by the end of the century were arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court that they were legally persons entitled to constitutional rights. In 1886, a Supreme Court bench heavy on railroad industry lawyers ignored the fact that corporations never are mentioned in our Constitution and granted them "corporate personhood." Soon, corporations had perverted the Bill of Rights itself to gain its protections--even before women and minorities had full personhood rights--and have since used this power to deny political rights to real human beings."

- " Wal-Mart Loses a Battle, But Why Was It Allowed To Fight?" Jeff Milchen, LA PRENSA SAN DIEGO, April 16, 2004

"It's important to realize that "corporate personhood" is not a unitary concept. The law can, and does treat corporations ('artificial persons') and natural persons the same in some respects (ability to hold property, ability to sue and be sued) but differently in other respects (income tax). This is not a new phenomenon, corporate personhood is as old as the Middle Ages, and exceptional treatment is as old as the English Statute of Mortmain (1279)...The Santa Clara County case did not find that corporations are persons for all purposes under the law; instead it found that corporations are 'persons' under the 14th Amendment, i.e. corporations would be treated the same as natural persons for the limited purposes of the 14th Amendment (actually not even the whole 14th Amendment, just the 'due process' part)."

- Corporate Law Expert, Wikipedia

Sources: "Corporate citizenship," Jamin B. Raskin, LOS ANGELES TIMES, August 24, 2003; "Court Finds Cause of Action Under Section 1983 for Telecom Cases," TELECOMMUNICATION INDUSTRY LITIGATION REPORTER, December 1, 2004; "Nike: Just like you and me," David Lazarus, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, September 14, 2003; "Wal-Mart Loses a Battle, But Why Was It Allowed To Fight?" Jeff Milchen, LA PRENSA SAN DIEGO, April 16, 2004; "The Abuses of Corporate Personhood," Brian Lane, USA TODAY, "Corporate personhood is not an abstract theory," Meghan Vogel, THE TIMES-STANDARD, May 1, 2004.

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