Corporate Personhood: It’s False History

[The following is a Letter To The Editor that I sent to the Daily Camera, Boulder Weekly and the Denver Post on June 21, 2011.]
Since the Boulder City Council may be deciding at their July 19 meeting on a fall ballot resolution about the issue of corporate personhood, I thought the community would be interested to learn more about the
origins of this legal fiction, and its bearing on current politics.

Corporate personhood is the claim by corporations that they have constitutional rights equal to Americans. This legal fiction was established only by court precedent since the post-Civil War era. “Corporation” is not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, nor has “corporate personhood” been voted on by any legislative body, anytime, anywhere.

So how did it start? After the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 to grant citizenship to all persons born in the United States, lawyers for the railroads (the biggest corporations then) crafted a brilliant scheme: could they claim rights as “corporate persons” under this law, and thereby escape laws seeking to restrain them? The result: between 1886 and 1910, there were 307 Supreme Court cases involving this amendment. Of these, 19 involved black men seeking to protect their rights; the other 288 were corporations seeking to expand their “rights” as “legal persons.” (from Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann, page 105).

This began 125 years of steady expansion of the rights of “corporate persons” — solely through court precedent — culminating in the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United,
saying money is equivalent to speech, and allowing corporations to spend unlimited money in politics. This is a clear and present danger to our democracy. It must be reversed. I hope the City Council will put
a resolution on the fall ballot to allow Boulder citizens to vote on it.

Rick Casey

One thought on “Corporate Personhood: It’s False History

  1. Thank you for the information. I definitely do not believe corporations should have a 'personhood' status but I had not previously understood where/when they got it… Thanks again for the explaination!! Keep up the good work.

    Jennifer Morrison
    Niwot, CO

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