Ari Melber, cohost of MSNBC’s The Cycle, discussed the controversial Hobby Lobby decision at the end of his show on July 2nd in a segment called “Ari’s Angle.” As you listen to his comments about this case, read below for critical commentary on his points about “corporate personhood,” i.e., the Court imposed, illegitimate doctrine that corporations have constitutional rights.
Melber’s use of the shorthand “corporate personhood” blurs the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights with the concept that corporations are deemed artificial persons for limited, legal purposes. Corporate constitutional rights have been increasingly granted by the Supreme Court, beginning in 1889 with the two rights protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, i.e., equal protection under the law and due process.
Corporations have long been understood as “artificial persons” under the law for the following purposes, none which are protected rights under the Constitution:
- Sue and be sued (what Melber referenced)
- Enter and break contracts
- As a “person” to be taxed by the state
- Negotiating prices
Because he doesn’t give examples of which “certain cases” “all” justices have upheld corporate rights, the claim that they did so cannot be challenged.
The Hobby Lobby decision does give a new religious right to a small percentage of Americans, the 2% of business owners. They have the right to use their power as owners of “artificial persons” to impose their religious beliefs through the artificial entity on to their employees.
Melber makes a key point: this decision, and all decisions over the last 125 years granting corporations constitutional rights, are just not justified by “originalism.” Corporate personhood is not legitimate because it simply is not in the Constitution. No associations were protected by rights until an activist, corporate-oriented Court made it so.
Corporate rights have less to do with capitalism than with corporate power. In theory, corporations could be co-ops operating in a different economy in service to people. However, it needs to be stressed here: this decision did not give corporations religious rights. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this point. At the end of the Hobby Lobby decision, Justice Alito wrote:
The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA. Our decision on that statutory question makes it unnecessary to reach the First Amendment claim raised by [Hobby Lobby, Inc.]
Even though Melber probably said it at least half joking, hoping corporations find a soul is akin to hoping that money will grow on trees. Hope doesn’t belong in a discussion about corporate rights. Struggling, working and organizing to abolish corporate constitutional rights are called for. Hope is irrelevant at this point in our neo-feudal system.
Filling in for Ed Shultz on 7/07/2014, Melber discussed this ruling with two guests. He does not seem to understand what Alito wrote at the end of his decision.
The Court’s decision to allow a small minority of religious people (certain corporate owners) to impose their “sincerely held religious beliefs” on a much larger minority of people (their female employees) via the corporate structure is the chief injustice — as Goldie Taylor stated — in this dangerous, precedent-setting case. Put differently, the statutory (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) rights of the 2% should not trump the statutory (Patient Protection, Affordable Care Act) rights of far more people before any court, much less the Supreme Court.
Patrick Caldwell writes about the Hobby Lobby decision on Moyers and Company:
“While the Court purports to limit its ruling to closely-held corporations on this issue only, the majority opinion invites a number of ‘me too’ religious objections by other companies on matters ranging from anti-discrimination law to other medical procedures such as blood transfusions or vaccinations,” Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal think tank, said in a statement Monday. Wydra isn’t alone. LGBT activists are already concerned that other companies might seek to expand upon Alito’s Hobby Lobby logic to discriminate against gay employees. “We will remain vigilant in the event business owners attempt to use this decision to justify other forms of discrimination, including against LGBT people,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.
One day after the Supreme Court issued its absurd ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it began to toss aside the supposedly narrow interpretation of the decision. On Tuesday, the Court justices ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to. Five Catholic men appear to be foisting their “sincerely held religious” opposition to contraception upon the public! The immediate turnaround to broaden the scope of Hobby Lobby will increase fears that the case has opened the way for a broad swath of corporations to object to any government regulation they dislike based on the religious whims of corporate owners.
The Hobby Lobby decision itself does not require a constitutional amendment to be overturned. That could be done with legislation, an effort that was recently filibustered in the U.S. Senate. This gives a concrete and specific example to Taylor’s assertion that it will cost politicians in the polls later this year. We’ll find out in November how angry this made women voters.
If the precedent this decision sets winds up creating a whole new area of constitutional law in which there is no distinction between a corporation and its owners, the implications are much more far-reaching. This could also become a problem on the issue of limited liability, as Bert Newborn spelled out in the interview, which is why the Chamber of Commerce didn’t support Hobby Lobby. An amendment to abolish corporate rights would fix the underlying foundation of the problem created by the Court, but it’s just one angle on a potentially explosive decision.