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  1. pewestlake pewestlake

    I could be missing something that seems obvious to others here but I have a somewhat different reading of NAACP v. Button. While it's true that Justice Brennan clearly stated that corporations have constitutional rights equal to individuals in the ruling, he also relied on the individual rights of the petitioners to give standing to the NAACP. The Court has had legal personhood to fall back on for so long that it shows up everywhere. But when you dig in, you still find individual rights underpinning the entire case. From the majority opinion:

    "[P]etitioner claims that the chapter infringes the right of the NAACP and its members and lawyers to associate for the purpose of assisting persons who seek legal redress for infringements of their constitutionally guaranteed and other rights. We think petitioner may assert this right on its own behalf, because, though a corporation, it is directly engaged in those activities, claimed to be constitutionally protected, which the statute would curtail. Cf. Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233. We also think petitioner has standing to assert the corresponding rights of its members. See NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 458-460; Bates v. City of Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, 523, n. 9; Louisiana ex rel. Gremillion v. NAACP, 366 U.S. 293, 296."

    So, even though there is precedent to establish the NAACP's standing in its own right as a member of the class effected by a statute that curbs constitutional protections, the NAACP is also recognized to be asserting the "corresponding [individual] rights of its members." Plus, the use of the phrase, "though a corporation," makes it clear that corporations are not actually regarded as having universal, unalienable rights in this decision.

    I think Button is a red herring. I think the progressives who are worried about protecting the NAACP are overstating the problem. Button may have been important in the long arc of civil rights but it's not an important "civil rights case" in the traditional sense of the term. It is, at its core, a free speech case that could have gone down the same road had the group in question been the KKK instead of the NAACP.

    In fact, legal personhood can prove harmful to the members of any legal fiction because the same right to privacy that the Court's have used to protect the NAACP from actions by states like Mississippi and Alabama could conceivably be used to insulate leadership from its own members or shareholders. The same logic that allows the Pentagon to withhold classified information from members of Congress could easily be transferred to the private sector and applied to the rank file of any and every legal entity, allowing corporate managers to deliberately keep shareholders in the dark, for instance.

    Now, again, I might be overlooking something or some several things, but as far as I can tell, the only instances in which legislation will be required after adopting an amendment like the HRA or MTA would be essentially housekeeping — statutes may need to be updated to account for proper terminology distinguishing natural and artificial persons, for instance. But I really don't see any instance in which institutional rights need to be quickly recognized in legislation to protect organizations like the NAACP. Because even if we did find a case in which the Court found that individuals' rights could not be asserted when corporate rights are being asserted on their behalf, something I strongly doubt, there is ample precedent to show that the rights expressed by legal fictions are extensions of the unalienable rights enjoyed by the individuals within those structures, whether or not those enterprises are also recognized as having their own constitutional protections.

    No matter what happens, there is every chance that a radical corporatist Court will find even more legally suspect and patently absurd methods of granting more power to legal fictions but we have to start somewhere. I'm glad you're addressing these concerns, Victor, as it seems to be troubling a lot of potential allies. But I think worrying about throwing the baby out with the bath water is the least of our concerns as long as the house is still on fire and I don't even think the baby was ever in there. 😉

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