Corporate Personhood: Standing Between Capitalism and Socialism

If you really want to get a liberal to react like a dysfunctional fembot in the Austen Powers movies , just mention Citizens United.  If you want their heads to explode, tell them that corporations are persons.  This is one thing that really upsets them and recently the $2.5 billion presidential wannabe, Hillary Clinton, mentioned it as one of the four things why she is running for President.  The reason they are upset is twofold: ignorance (or stupidity) and frustration.  Before discussing the frustration part, let’s address their ignorance/stupidity.

While it may be true that corporations are not specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution and, thus to the Left, not worthy of constitutional protection, that in no way negates the fact that almost since our founding corporations have been treated as persons.  In the Dartmouth College case in 1819, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that charters are contracts and states or governments cannot alter or change contracts.  Obviously, Dartmouth College was and is not a “person” in their sense of the word- i.e., a living, breathing human- yet the early Court most intimate with the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention afforded a corporation (the college) a constitutional right afforded the usual “person.”

In a case in 1823, Justice Joseph Story- one of the greatest Justices of all time- afforded 5th Amendment rights to corporations and in 1830, Chief Justice John Marshall- perhaps the greatest Justice of all time- afforded those rights to a foreign corporation.  In the 1886 case known as Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific, Chief Justice Waite prefaced oral argument with the proviso that corporations are “persons” and that it was settled constitutional law.  This was reiterated in Supreme Court cases in 1938, 1949 and 1957 by Justices who were conservative and who were “progressive,” or liberal.  In 1970, the Seventh Amendment’s requirement of a jury in a civil case was afforded corporations, the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause in 1976 and the Fourth Amendment’s Search and Seizure Clause in 1978.  All of these Amendments and clauses had applied to individual persons, but it was certainly the considered decision of the Supreme Court that for these purposes, corporations were also “persons.”

In 1871, Congress passed the Dictionary Act which specifically states that unless otherwise noted in any statute, the word “person” refers to individuals “and corporations.”  There is even evidence in the Congressional Record during debate over the 14th Amendment that corporations- which were growing in prominence and use at the time- were to be covered under the new law which is probably why the Dictionary Act made that clear a few years later.

Thus, there is a long history of legal and Supreme Court evidence to prove that corporations are “persons” for the purpose of statutes and Constitutional provisions.  This is something the Left either refuses to accept or is just too stupid to acknowledge.  Their claim is that because corporations are creations of the states, they cannot have the attributes of “persons” despite the overwhelming evidence that since 1819 the opposite has been true.

That is because at this Nation’s founding, the phrase “capitalism” was not used.  That phrase came into vogue much later in our history.  However, the three tenets of a strong capitalist society were enshrined in the Constitution.  Economic issues were not major issues at the Constitutional convention, yet they took the time to protect contractual rights and laid the groundwork for a free market economic system to develop and flourish.  The third tenet- property rights- was likewise enshrined in the Constitution itself, the Northwest Ordinance and later in the Bill of Rights.

However, the Founders did not envision a laissez-faire free market system.  That explains why they established the Commerce Clause (which has been taken to absurd extremes at times).  It also explains the major controversy surrounding the First Bank of the United States since to its opponents, it represented a government-run monopoly. There is further evidence that the Founders did not anticipate a laissez-faire economy since they regularly favored certain industries or products over others.  That is, since our founding, the government has had its hand in economic affairs.  They accepted government regulation of businesses and enterprises, but that regulation was to be limited and it certainly should not infringe on the more important enumerated rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  This further explains why corporations are “persons.”

Now imagine if that constitutional understanding was somehow magically wiped away as the Left proposes.  Imagine if there was not that string of Supreme Court cases listed above.  In that scenario, government would run roughshod over the very tenets of capitalism.  Contracts entered into freely by parties could be negated by the government if those contracts stood in the way of a governmental interest.  Corporations would be tried twice for the same offense and they would not have the right to a civil trial if they were sued for product liability or anything else.  OSHA, the EPA or the EEOC could walk in unannounced and demand to do inspections or see records.  The personal property of a corporation-  factory, a headquarters, etc.- could be confiscated by the government without “just compensation.”  And the list goes on.

The result would be an economic system that resembled that of say… Cuba or the Soviet Union.  This would apply to businesses big and small.

The Left bases it support of abortion (or reproductive rights) upon the supposed privacy protections found in the Constitution.  In fact, you cannot find the word “privacy” in the Constitution or any amendment.  By the same token, you cannot find the phrase “free market,” “capitalism,” or “corporation” in these documents.  Instead, they have to rely on the inferences of a right to privacy, or “penumbras” in Supreme Court parlance.  If there are these penumbras with respect to the right to privacy, then there are full eclipses when it comes to corporate rights which includes classifying them as “persons.”

And thank God there is or else there is no difference between the United States and the any failed Marxist system.  That is what is at heart of the Left’s disdain of decisions like Citizens United or Hobby Lobby.  It has nothing to do with leveling a political playing field or removing the appearance of corruption.  Their frustration is that there is this nagging piece of paper standing in their way- the United States Constitution- that prevents them from creating their liberal, Marxist Utopia.  And that is what makes Barack Obama the most dangerous President this great country ever had the misfortune of electing.