I had a question posed to me on Facebook about whether or not unions and corporations should have the same inalienable constitutional rights that I do as an individual human being and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it…
I work for a non-profit organization that protects the constitutional right of citizens to petition their government and, when appropriate, to call for a referendum or recall when a law or elected official no longer serves the people. Citizens in Charge Foundation protects the free speech of over 140 million Americans without regard to politics; I enjoy going to work every day knowing that I am on the front lines protecting that constitutional freedom.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the limitations on corporate money in political ads with its decision in the Citizens United case. The Court cited a violation of corporations’ First Amendment rights to free speech. Anyone involved in politics knows that this was a controversial decision, even amidst some conservative circles, although the case was brought by a big hitter in conservative political advocacy. While I stand with Citizens United in their mission to restore a government rightfully controlled by the people, this decision has always rubbed me the wrong way.
My favorite founding father has always been Thomas Jefferson. Having lived in Virginia for nearly 10 years, I made regular trips to Monticello and have read pretty much everything I can get my hands on by him or about him. The Jefferson Vineyard also produces some of my favorite wine! During that decade; I also spent a significant amount of time interacting with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Jeffersonian organization dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and individual liberty. Jefferson was a strong and vocal supporter of referendum and so my kinship with him has grown along with my time at Citizens in Charge Foundation.
As fellow history buffs know, Thomas Jefferson talked about his fear of corporate monopolization regularly referring to “the selfish spirit of commerce, which knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain.” The U.S. Constitution protects free speech as an inalienable right of human beings… not entities like corporations and unions. For me, it is a stretch to say that it is self-evident that artificial entities such as a union or a corporation should have the same constitutional rights that I am granted as a human being. I cannot help but think about how the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written as a charter of, by and for people that basically spells out what form of government we are to be governed by and how that government is to be limited in order to protect the people’s inalienable rights.
In 1819, Chief Justice Marshall described the status of a corporation according to federal law: “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of creation confers upon it, either expressly, or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created.” Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 636 (1819).
Times have changed since then and I certainly believe that corporations and unions should have rights but, should there be constitutional corporate rights? It seems to me that if we are going to expand upon the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, that the people should have some say in that, not just the courts. Why don’t we put this issue to a vote of the people? Ask them if they want the artificial entities of corporations and unions to have the same inalienable constitutional rights that they have as human beings.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that it is unfair to stop some who wish to spend money during an election cycle because some other(s) cannot and it is unfair. I believe that anyone who wishes to spend money in an election – individual citizen, small or large corporation, union – should be able to do so in whatever capacity they so choose. However, I also strongly advocate that those donations be completely transparent and that all shareholders are involved in the donation decision-making process. I think it is crucial that information is provided to all people which would in turn allow individuals to make an informed decision on how they choose to vote. Why not put the issue of corporate and union disclosure to a vote of the people? Ask them what they want.
As a free marketer & supporter of individual rights, the fact that corporations and unions now have constitutional rights makes me wonder how much farther we are going to stray from the theory of self-governance espoused by our founders.
How should we define the rights, constitutional or otherwise, of unions and corporations? That’s a conversation that I would like to see happen in this country. Individual human beings are different then entities such as unions and corporations. But, let’s have the conversation about those rights and what, if any, restrictions & regulations the people feel are necessary for those entities.
The founders often talked about their suspicions surrounding concentrations of power. Specifically, they spoke about keeping corporations in the economic sphere and were wary of their potential to influence the political sphere. Those spheres have certainly been pierced in our modern day world but, let’s have a conscious conversation about how we, the people, want our politics to work for us. After all, it’s a government of, by and for the people.
What do you think? Please take 60 seconds to answer this question on Facebook or here.
This post originally appeared on my personal website, www.AmandaKathrynRoman.com. The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author, they are not endorsed by her employer or any affiliated organizations.