This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

June 25, 2011

Hedda Haning: Beware the corporation as 'person'

Actual people should fight back against recent court case

A Gazette editorial approached corporate "personhood" by noting that West Virginia laws forbid corporations with state contracts to make political contributions. As the editorial pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision gave corporate "persons" the right of free speech -- and a previous ruling said money is a form of speech. The absurdity of it all was noted. I would like to take the discussion a step further.

In 2010, five concurring justices wrote in Citizens United that their decision giving corporations free speech rights was based on the14th Amendment, which protected freed slaves. It begins: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States....." It was cited in an 1886 case about taxing railroads, which was used as precedent for last year's decision. That argument has been well rebutted in Thom Hartmann's book, Unequal Protection, as I will paraphrase here:

  • Corporations cannot be born or naturalized or become citizens.
  • The reference to the 14th Amendment quoted by the justices occurred only in a brief commentary placed there by the court reporter. It has no legal standing whatever. Contrary to that brief note, the justices specifically ruled they were not considering constitutional issues, but only tax issues.
  • In all prior use of common law, starting in Britain and accepted here, corporations, churches and other legal entities are referred to as "artificial persons," to give them a legal name to be able to tax and regulate them. From their beginning, they were completely distinct from natural persons, which is what we people are.
  • The East India Company, the villain in the Boston Tea party, was a corporation. Our founding fathers were disgusted with corporations, and gave them no privileged treatment.
  • Our rights as enumerated in the Constitution are inherent in us as human beings. The Constitution doesn't give us rights; it restrains governments from infringing on them.
  • The Constitution does not include even one mention of the word corporation.
  • Corporations have only the privileges given to them in their charters which can be, and in the past have been, revoked.

And here is why you should care about this a whole lot: The absolutely only purpose, goal or value of a for-profit corporation is to make money. They are required to do so by law. If people are killed, environments ruined, workers impoverished, democracy destroyed in the process, corporations do not care. Corporations tear down mountains and pollute your drinking water to make money.

Corporations say they create jobs, but they lie. If they could make money without hiring a single worker, they would do so. Corporations let workers be smashed or burned up to make money. Corporations promote war to make money. Corporations hold your health hostage to make money. Corporations corrupt our government to make money. Corporations have no loyalty -- they readily go overseas to make money. Pay taxes? Ha-ha.

Corporations have no conscience. Corporations lie, cheat and steal, but they can't go to jail. And if the government is corrupt enough, even the management doesn't go to jail. What we have blooming here is fascism.

We need to fight back. And there are many wonderful grassroots organizations doing so, each on its own way. But I have a more comprehensive and powerful suggestion: So that no court can ever again go in the direction of Citizens United, let's invalidate that 2010 ruling, and any other like it or that might be in the offing, by passing a Constitutional Amendment that says clearly and plainly that corporations are NOT natural persons, and that they are NOT entitled to any of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution to natural persons -- that are guaranteed to We the People.

First we need the amendment written. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., has made a beginning, but aimed only at the free speech issue. Another that goes significantly further is at The rest of the job is ours. We the People need to push Congress and state legislators to pass our amendment. Our effort has to be overwhelming and relentless because corporations, with all their money, influence and lies, will push back. It's us or them.

Haning is a retired Charleston anesthesiologist and civic activist.

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