Corporate Personhood Timeline & After It’s Gone

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In 1791, the 10th Amendment left control of corporations to state legislatures. Corporate charters were very explicit about what a corporation could do, how, for how long, with whom, where, and when. Corporations could not own stock in other corporations, and they were prohibited from any part of the political process. Individual stockholders were held personally liable for any harms done in the name of the corporation, and most charters only lasted for 10-15 years. In order to receive the profit-making privileges the shareholders sought, their corporations had to present a clear benefit for the public good, such a building a road, canal, or bridge. When corporations violated any of these terms, their charters were revoked by the state legislatures.
In 1819 corporations were given the right to enforce contracts ( Dartmouth vs Woodard )
In 1868, the 14th Amendment provided citizenship rights to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. During and after the Civil War there was a rapid increase in both the number and size of corporations. This form of business was starting to become a more important way of holding and protecting property and power. Increasingly through their corporations, the wealthy, such as Mark Hanna, Henry O. Havemeyer, J. P. Morgan, Charles M. Schwab, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould started bribing public officials, and employing lawyers to write new laws ( no – that was not ALEC ) and file court cases challenging the existing laws that restricted corporate behavior. Bit by bit, decade by decade, state legislatures increased corporate charter lifetime while they decreased corporate liability and reduced citizen authority over corporate structure, governance, production, and labor.
The 14th Amendment, says that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without the due process of law; nor deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws.” The definition of the word “person” in the 14th Amendment became the focus of hundreds of legal battles for the next 20 years.
In 1886 the Supreme Court ruled on Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The case was about taxes. Before the Court delivered its decision, the following statement is attributed to Chief Justice Waite: “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.“ The statement appeared in the header of the case in the published version, and the Court made its ruling on this case on other grounds. How this statement appeared in the header of the case is a matter of some mystery and competing theories, but because it was later cited as precedent, corporate personhood became the accepted legal doctrine.
Since corporations were chartered by state governments, and the 14th Amendment reads “No state shall…” If the word “person” in the 14th Amendment included corporations, then no state shall deny to corporations due process or equal protection of the laws. This allowed corporate lawyers to allege discrimination whenever a state law was enacted to curtail corporations.
In 1889 corporations are ruled people for due process & equal protection (Minneapois RR v. Beckwith)
In 1893 corporations were granted 5th Amendment right to Due Process (Noble v. Union River Logging, 1893), corporate lawyers could challenge, and the Supreme Court could find grounds to overturn, democratically legislated laws that originated at the federal as well as state levels.
In 1905 the court ruled in Lochner v NY against economic regulation of corporations. This was used to overturn at least 200 government regulations.
In 1906 corporations were granted 4th Amendment search and seizure protection (Hale v. Henkel).
In 1908 corporations were granted 6th Amendment right to trial by jury ( Armour Packing v. US ).
In 1922 corporations were acknowledged as protected under the “takings” clause of the 5th Amendment (Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon), and a regulatory law was deemed to be a “takings.”
In 1947 corporations start getting 1st Amendment protections (Taft-Hartley Act).
In 1970 corporations were granted 7th Amendment right to trial by jury in a civil case ( Ross v Bernhard ).
In 1976 corporations got 1st Amendment free speech rights for commercial speech and advertising ( Virgina Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council )
In 1976 corporations got 5th Amendment protection against double jeopardy (U.S. v Martin linen Supply )
In 1976, the Supreme Court Buckley v. Valeo case determined that money spent for political purposes is exercising free speech, and since “corporate persons” have 1st Amendment rights, they can contribute as much money as they want to political parties & candidates.
In 1977, the Supreme court uses the 1st Amendment is used to overturn state restrictions on corporate spending on political referenda ( First National Bank of Boston v Bellotti )
In 1996, corporations got 1st Amendment rights for political and commercial speech and extends to statements of fact as well as statements of opinion. ( International Dairy Foods Association v Amestoy )
In 2010, the Supreme Court Citizens United case, as stated in Obama’s State of the Union speech, determined corporations have the right to unlimited free speech in secret – thus unlimited political contributions. Free speech = money. And allows “super pacs”.

A corporation is not a real thing; it’s a legal fiction – a judicially created abstraction. A corporation can live forever. It can change its identity in a day. If it’s found guilty of a crime, it cannot go to prison – or be executed in Texas despite the fact that it has an IQ of zero.
Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property.
Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.
Corporate personhood has been legalized by corporate power using the courts for over two centuries to do what corporations do best – make profits. To paraphrase a line from the movie Terminator “Listen, and understand. That corporation is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever.” It was made to make profits and making profits is what it does.
What would change if corporations did not have personhood? The main effect would be that a barrier would be removed that is preventing democratic change. Just as the abolition of slavery tore down an insurmountable legal barrier and made it possible to pass laws to provide full rights to the newly freed slaves.
After the fiction of corporate personhood – as created by courts – is removed, state legislatures, as envisioned by the founders in their 1791 10th Amendment, could legislatively ( rather than judicially ) grant corporations the rights that the people decide are proper.
If corporations no longer had a 1st Amendment right of free speech, we could prohibit all corporate political activity, such as lobbying and contributions to political candidates and parties. All advertising and product labeling could be required to be honest.
Corporate personhood is at the root of such Supreme Court rulings as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti [435 U.S. 765 (1978)], which equate corporate donations to political campaigns with free speech and grants 1st Amendment rights. These rulings can then be reversed once corporate personhood is gone. We can and should prohibit corporations from making any kind of contribution to politicians, to lobbying groups, or to campaigns involving referenda. Whether regarding the environment or food safety, we would not have to compromise with powerful corporate political machines. Do the people want to prohibit clear-cutting or fracking? No politician will be on a wood-products corporation or oil corporation payroll. Any advertising that does not sell products, that is, any advertising not presenting factual information about the products or services a corporation offers, should be prohibited. Again, because corporations will not have 1st Amendment free speech rights.
The main roadblock to single-payer, national health care or Medicare for all has been the enormous amount of 1st Amendment protected lobbying and campaign contributions from those corporations that profit from the current system. By prohibiting corporate-sponsored campaign contributions to politicians and corporate-sponsored propaganda on television, the national consensus in favor of national health care could no longer be thwarted.
If corporations no longer had 5th Amendment “due process”, corporations could be legislatively redesigned. A corporation might only be allowed a single hearing when their actions effect an endangered species, rather than the current system where they can spend millions of dollars of their own money, and of taxpayer money, and of the non-profit environmental groups that oppose them, in an unending series of appeals and diversionary legal tricks. State corporate charters, might channel certain types of corporate wrongdoing into special courts where justice is swift and stern, and where corporate legal power will be trivialized.
If corporations were not protected against search without a warrant under the 4th Amendment, then corporate managers could not turn OSHA and the EPA inspectors away if they make surprise, unscheduled searches.
Removing “unreasonable searches and seizures” 4th Amendment protection will make it easier to require corporate witnesses to appear in court and supply corporate documents as in Hale v. Henkel [201 U.S. 43 (1906)]
The OSHA Act of 1970 was enacted to try to get employees safe working environments, allowed for surprise inspections of workplaces, but these inspections were struck down in Marshall v. Barlow’s, Inc. [436 U.S. 307 (1978)] by the Supreme Court in accordance with the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment.
If corpororations were not protected against discrimination under the 14th Amendment, corporations like Wal-Mart could not force themselves into communities that do not want them.
Without the protection of the 14th Amendment, any corporation ( large or small or chain store or polluting ) could be purposefully discriminated against in legislation as in Liggett v. Lee [288 U.S. 517 (1933)].

The only immediate effect of revoking corporate personhood, would be to cause the legal status of corporations to revert back to that of artificial entities. They could still be represented in courts by attorneys and would be subject to the law and taxation and the legislated will of the people.
However, a whole body of Supreme Court decisions would have to be re-examined. The ability of States, when granting or renewing corporate charters, to restrict harmful activities of corporations would be greatly enhanced. New legislation to protect the environment, workers, small businesses, and consumers could be enacted without worrying that it would be struck down by the Supreme Court that created corporate personhood in 1886.
The people, however, whether they work for corporations or not, will retain all of the freedoms recognized in the constitution. In addition, the people will have their freedom enhanced by not having their liberty overpowered by the rule of corporations.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property.
Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.

After World War II, when historians asked hundreds of German people, how could a well educated, modern people let Nazi insanity take over and destroy their country – the almost universal answer was – “SLOWLY”.

Sound familiar ??? Is 221 years slow enough ?

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