robot_building_no_alpha“Corporate personhood” is an incomplete shorthand in the same way that “overturn Citizens United” doesn’t encompass the entirety of the problem of money dominating politics in America. When people from organizations like Move To Amend say corporate personhood, what they usually mean by “corporate” is all artificial entities, including corporations, unions, non-profits, super PACs and all other forms of organization that are created in charters granted by government agencies (or, in the case of unions, regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act). And what they usually mean by “personhood” are the Constitutional protections afforded to those legal fictions that the Founding Fathers had originally reserved exclusively for individuals (We the People). The distinction between “natural” and “artificial” personhood is what is often lost in the translation to English from the legal pig latin of jurisprudence.

After the American Revolution, our legal system was largely founded on British Common Law, which dates back to the creation of the Magna Carta and included an understanding that legal fictions, like the British East India Company, were “artificial persons” for purposes of the law. Artificial corporate personhood allowed those entities to enter into contracts, to sue and be sued, collect fees, distribute wages and pay taxes to the crown but it did not grant any rights. All the things an artificial entity could do were considered “privileges” that could be revoked by the monarch (or Parliament) for almost any reason, legitimate or not (this is a corrupt aristocracy we’re talking about, after all).

This basic structure of artificial corporate personhood, as separate and distinct from the “natural” personhood that describes living human beings, was carried forward into American law and confirmed in the first Supreme Court ruling to acknowledge it, Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819. Bear in mind that not all living human beings in America were treated as “persons” at all, or at least in full, in the Constitution at that time. Some of the Founders wanted to exclude slaves from the census count entirely, but others wanted the political power their numbers could afford in a representative democracy (even though they wouldn’t be allowed to vote, of course), so the three-fifths rule was incorporated in the U.S. Constitution as a compromise. Free white women, while not enduring the indignity of slavery, were nonetheless considered “property” for all intents and purposes under the laws of every state. With barely 5% of the nation eligible to vote under state law, in accordance with the federalist construction of the original Constitution, and not many more eligible to even own property, the notion of “natural” personhood for artificial creations of the state would have seemed laughable to the Founding Fathers.

An important piece of the following statement by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Logan on November 12, 1816, has been circulating on the web for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with clipping out the quote but the full letter is fascinating and worth a look in its original form. But you can get the full context with this much [emphasis added]:

“I do not believe that in the four administrations which have taken place, there has been a single instance of departure from good faith towards other nations. We may sometimes have mistaken our rights, or made an erroneous estimate of the actions of others, but no voluntary wrong can be imputed to us. In this respect England exhibits the most remarkable phenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of its government and the probity of its citizens. And accordingly it is now exhibiting an example of the truth of the maxim that virtue and interest are inseparable. It ends, as might have been expected, in the ruin of its people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall, on that hereditary aristocracy which has for generations been preparing the catastrophe. I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” ~Thomas Jefferson

https://i2.wp.com/www.amendmentgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jefferson_to_logan_1.jpg?resize=220%2C300 220w https://i2.wp.com/www.amendmentgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jefferson_to_logan_1.jpg?resize=754%2C1024 754w" sizes="(max-width: 88px) 100vw 88px" /> https://i0.wp.com/www.amendmentgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jefferson_to_logan_2.jpg?resize=224%2C300 224w https://i0.wp.com/www.amendmentgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jefferson_to_logan_2.jpg?resize=766%2C1024 766w" sizes="(max-width: 89px) 100vw 89px" />

Despite the best efforts of corporate owners and executives, like the earliest railroad magnates, the separation of natural and artificial corporate personhood remained intact for the first hundred years of the Constitution’s existence. But so did slavery for most of that time. Suggesting that artificial persons should have rights when entire classes of natural persons (blacks and women) were still considered property would have been illogical at best. After slavery was abolished, the table was set for the rise of the corporation as “natural” person.

Original 14th Amendment Proposal – Page 1 (National Archives)

This came about as a result of a manipulation of the wording in one of the post-Civil War amendments, which together were designed to abolish slavery and grant citizenship to all native-born persons, and included the right to vote for former slaves (men only). The 14th Amendment, what would become the linchpin to corporate personhood, could have been worded to specifically exclude artificial persons but nobody thought to indemnify the amendment language against the manipulations of a Supreme Court in thrall to monied interests. The critical first section reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Corporations now use corporate personhood to claim constitutional rights on a regular basis. The Fourth Amendment is used to prevent OSHA from making surprise inspections of work sites to make sure workers don’t get injured or worse. The Fifth Amendment can be used to force taxpayers to pay for “lost profits” as a result of duly enacted regulation on land use and business activities. No legislation has ever been proposed that would have anywhere near the effect the Supreme Court has had in the creation of an entire area of law in the U.S Code. That kind of judicial activism is how we got Citizens United, a case the Supreme Court turned into a sweeping First Amendment ruling even without any urging from the plaintiff.

Abolishing constitutional rights for artificial entities is not about demolishing corporations or capitalism or anything so radical. It’s simply putting the reins back on the legal fictions that the Supreme Court has allowed to run amok in our economy, politics and legal system for decades. Governments are our creations. Corporations are the governments’ creations. We can no longer allow the creations of our creations to have control over the destinies of the original creators — we the people. Enough is enough.

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  1. It is a serious and glaring, misleading mistake, and a slander to say that “poor wording” in the 14th Amendment provided a “loophole” that allowed the Supreme Court to declare that corporations possess the Constitutional rights of a “person”.
    The 14th Amendment is, itself, a key part of the unambiguous, air-tight proof, which is found within the U.S.. Constitution itself, that a corporation does not have the status of a “person” in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.

    Please read that proof in “Do Corporations Have Constitutional Rights? The Proof.”
    https://clydewinter.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/do-corporations-have-constitutional-rights/

    This proof is NOT meant to be an alternative solution to the Constitutional Amendment that we the people need to establish democracy by ending corporate usurpation of our unalienable rights and our government, and ending legalized bribery. This proof strengthens our Movement to Amend by demonstrating that the Constitution itself strongly, clearly, and completely endorses our core principle.

    Reply
    • pewestlake pewestlake

      While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as a “slander,” the term “loophole” was intended as a figure of speech that’s accessible to the modern general public. But your point is valid and well-taken. As I have been updating various aspects of this website in recent days, I took the opportunity to adjust the language of this piece accordingly. The word “loophole” has been expunged and that passage now more properly explained as a “manipulation” of the language in the Fourteenth Amendment. Please read the updated version and feel free to send more critiques.
      pw

      Reply

  2. It would be grossly inconsistent and also a confusing contradiction in terms for the quite perfectly worded 14th Amendment (or any Article or any Amendment in the U.S. Constitution for that matter) to employ the stupid oxymoron “artificial person” or the embarrassingly redundant “natural person”, when the entire rest of the text of the U.S. Constitution employs simply and clearly the word “person”. That is because the word “person” throughout the U.S. Constitution clearly and precisely referred, and still refers, to nothing more and nothing less than a living, breathing human being. Careful, rigorous inspection of the U.S. Constitution, including ALL of the Amendments makes this crystal clear and beyond doubt, uncertainty, or rebuttal. The U.S. Constitution just happened to define the word “person”, and consistently and invariably use it 36 times! – using the same meaning that everyday people in everyday common usage used and still use for the word “person”, by the time that the 14th Amendment was considered and ratified. Given that fact, any introduction of the strange phrases “artificial person” or “natural person”, by any Amendment to the Constitution might have pleased some exceedingly wonky and fuzzy thinking 21st century pedants, but it would have introduced serious confusion in legitimate interpretation of the entire document that was not otherwise present. If the 14th Amendment had introduced the phrase “natural person” in section 1, that would have implied that all, or at least some of the other “persons” that are referred to throughout the Constitution might NOT be “natural persons”, thus contradicting the clear pre-existing definition of a Constitutional “person”. The 14th Amendment wisely and properly did not introduce that confusion into the U.S. Constitution. Instead, the beautifully and strongly worded 14th Amendment continued to employ, and in fact powerfully reinforced and indeed helped establish, the already clearly existing Constitutional definition of exactly what a “person” was and still is. A Constitutional “person” is a living, breathing human being.

    Everyday people come from all walks of life, but they often can understand one another. Now Henry was not a biologist, he wasn’t a carpenter, and he had never even logged, but he never had an argument with anyone when he said that a tree is a living thing that is made of wood. But then one day, when he was an old man, somebody said to him that trees are made of metal. No way, said Henry. Trees are made of wood. The guy retorted that he knows where there are trees made of metal, and he also has seen trees made of plastic, wanna bet? So Henry made a bet that trees are made of wood, not plastic or metal. And the trickster brought out an “artificial tree” – one of those reusable fake Christmas decorations that comes with a warranty that it’ll last more than just one Christmas. Henry wasn’t no fool. He refused to pay, and what’s more he demanded payment from the trickster. As old Henry said, an artificial tree isn’t a kind of tree, like birch trees and beech trees and juniper trees. Why an “artificial tree” just ain’t a tree at all. It don’t matter what YOU call it, it still ain’t a tree. Something that ain’t a real tree ain’t a real tree, that’s all there is to it. A tree is a tree is a tree. An “artificial tree” ain’t a tree. By definition. Pay up, buster. And ol’ Henry made him pay up.

    Now we the people have to demand that the clear, unambiguous Constitutional definition of what is and is not a “person” be restored, despite how some tricksters and shysters have tried to twist and horribly distort and deny what the Constitution actually and provably means by the word “person”. And it just so happens that what everyday people understand is meant by the word “person” is exactly what the U.S. Constitution means by the word “person”. We got to make them tricksters and shysters pay up. We got to end corporate rule and establish government that is of, by, and for the people. A corporation is NOT a “person” in the unambiguous meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Simple as that. Now let’s get it, boys and girls.

    Reply

  3. This featured article, “Are Corporations People” was revised after my comments were posted, so the direct relevance of those comments to the article is now a bit less apparent. Nevertheless, a few additional comments are in order, following the revision and comment that was just posted.

    I am sensitive to the public reputation of the incredibly important and (I would say) perfectly composed 14th Amendment, even if disrepute for the 14th is “unintentionally” caused by “friendly fire”. Please be careful of where your guns are pointing when you discharge them. I do not need to retract my use of the word, “slander”, because what I am objecting to is false statements that tend to discredit the 14th Amendment, whether they are intentionally made for that purpose or not, and whether they are knowingly false or not. A statement does not have to be malicious or intentional or deceitful in order to be accurately termed “slander”. I do not think that the author of “Are Corporations People?” was malicious or deceitful or intentionally discrediting the 14th Amendment. Nevertheless, a false statement that has the effect of discrediting it is certainly “slander” – simply by definition. The reason I so quickly rise to the defense of the beautiful 14th Amendment is not only that it is so important, and so clearly worded, it is also because efforts to negate, disembowel, and even repeal the 14th Amendment have been increasingly mounted in recent years, and even in recent days. In other words, the 14th Amendment has been under attack since it was ratified, and it is under severe attack just now. Why would a friend and defender of democracy do anything that would help weaken public support for the 14th Amendment? The fact that the 14th Amendment has been virulently attacked, sullied, and misrepresented by enemies since the day that it was ratified is not credible evidence that it is in any way deficient or faulty. Unintentional misrepresentation of history and the 14th Amendment, especially coming from supposed “friends” of democracy, does nothing but play directly into the hands of the most active servants of plutocracy and corporate rule. The 14th Amendment is a strong and uncompromising friend of the people. The 14th Amendment, just exactly as it is, is one of the best Constitutional defenders of democracy that we’ve got. It’s up to us, and it always has been, to use it and to defend it.

    A major reason that corporatists and ex-exploiters of slavery intentionally did everything they could to discredit, derail, and grossly distort the clear meaning of the 14th Amendment, beginning right after it was ratified, and continuing today, is precisely because it is so clear and powerful in substantially extending the protection of human rights by the U.S. Constitution. The two sentences comprising Section 1 of the 14th Amendment explicitly and separately address the rights of both “person(s)” and “citizens”. The 14th Amendment, for the first time in our history, defined citizenship in the United States. Prior to the 14th, each state, willy-nilly, could decide who was and who was not a citizen of the USA. Neither the federal government, nor any state in the Union today, can decide that because my skin is has a certain hue, or I am descended from a disfavored nationality, or my gender is wrong, or I don’t believe or act in conformity with certain expectations, or I don’t meet some other arbitrary standard, that I am not a citizen. The 14th Amendment established that no state can “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”. This protects you and me and EVERY citizen.

    Now, be advised that a Constitutional “person” is not the same as a Constitutional “citizen”. And be further advised that the word “person” in the U.S. Constitution has always referred to a living breathing human being, nothing more and nothing less. Finally, women, slaves, and people of any age, color, nationality, or status regarding personal property, have always been included within the compass of that word “person” in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. That, of course, does not mean that the defined Constitutional rights of a “person” have always (or ever) been actually upheld, enforced, or defended by the laws of Congress or the states, by the executive branch, by the police, or by the courts. The Constitution itself did clearly state that there was a difference (though it did not define that difference) between “free Persons”, and “all other Persons”, and ever since day one it was established that women and children who were not slaves were counted as “free Persons”, while all persons (including women, men, and children) who were slaves were counted as “other Persons”. But the point I am making is that all living and breathing human beings (and only human beings) have always been defined as “Persons” by the U.S. Constitution. The 13th and 14th Amendments scrubbed the distinction between “free Persons” and “all other Persons”, but they did not change the outside boundaries of what is, and what is not, a “person” in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. A “Person” has always been a “person” in the exact meaning of the U.S. Constitution, which has always been nothing more and nothing less than a living, breathing human being.

    By the way, the author put a slightly different spin on the “three-fifths rule” than can be supported by history. The “three-fifths of a person” rule that applied to enumerating persons who were slaves, was a compromise between those delegations, which primarily represented slave states (who wanted each slave to be counted as one person) versus those delegations, which primarily represented “free states”. Free-staters and abolitionists held that states which don’t allow slaves to vote shouldn’t be given any “representation” based upon the presence of those slaves. The three-fifths compromise gave disproportionately more power in Congress to slave owners in slave states than it gave to people who resided in free states, and, of course, it gave absolutely no representation to slaves. Ironically, the 14th Amendment, which ended the 3/5ths compromise, and counted every person as one person, gave even more power to the white people in previously slave states than they had before, because the failure for an entire century to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in previously slave states meant that the white people in those states enjoyed even a greater disproportionate representation in Congress than they had during slavery. And, of course, despite their presence ironically giving far greater influence in Congress to the white people in states which continued to deny the right to vote to black people, than white people had who lived in states that did not blatantly violate the Constitution, even for a hundred years after the abolition of slavery, and the enactment of the 14th and 15th Amendments, black people living in previously slave states still had no representation in government. In other words, the balance of power of white supremacists over black people, and over the government, actually became worse for black people and for democracy, after the abolition of slavery and after the 14th Amendment was ratified, simply because only the first sentence of Section 2 was enforced, but Section 1 in its entirety, together with the second sentence of Section 2, were blatantly and completely ignored for the next 100 years. That is exactly what is meant by, and that is precisely the effect of, what we have been told is “the end of Reconstruction”. Except for the way that Congress was reapportioned, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments became unenforced for the next century. And Section 1 of the 14th Amendment was brutally, repeatedly raped and bludgeoned in the service of strengthening corporate rule. It wasn’t the fault of the 14th Amendment. It’s the fault of high government officials, primarily in the Supreme Court. And it’s our fault – the fault of we the people – for not having apprehended and stopped the unmitigated gang rape assault.

    It is the 14th Amendment which, for the first time since the Constitution was ratified a century earlier, explicitly forbids any state from acting against ANY person’s vital interests by denying him or her due process, or by denying any person the equal protection of the laws. There is no question that the 14th Amendment was instigated and motivated by the conclusion of the Civil War and the successful abolition of slavery in the USA by the 13th Amendment. But what too many Americans fail to realize, even today, is that the 14th Amendment establishes and protects Constitutional rights for ALL persons – not just African-Americans. Read for yourself, carefully and thoughtfully, the brief, concise 14th Amendment. The two sentences that comprise Section 1 are the heart and soul of the 14th Amendment. Those sentences had at least the potential of strengthening Constitutional protection of human rights very significantly for EVERYONE – not just ex-slaves, not just certain ethnic or racial classifications – from that day forward. Whatever the 14th Amendment says about the rights of a “person” or of “citizens” in Section 1, you can see for yourself that it is not limited one iota, or focused exclusively, by even a single word, to a particular gender, color, nationality, class, status of having been enslaved or imprisoned, or any other distinguishing characteristic of a “person”. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment applies to ALL “persons”, and (should) establish and protect important rights of each and every one of us.

    The idea or the suggestion, whether intentional or not, that the 14th Amendment carries within its “wording” the seeds of oligarchy and corporate rule, and the denial of the essence of democracy, is nothing less than an unsupportable slander.

    Quite to the contrary, the first sentence of Section 2 of the 14th Amendment is itself a part of our airtight proof that the U.S. Constitution does NOT regard or consider a corporation to have the Constitutional status of a “person”. I won’t digress here into a restatement of that proof, but it is very important because it empowers our Movement, and gives us a “leg-up”, that the Constitution itself unambiguously reinforces and supports our core principle that a corporation is not a “Person” in the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. See Part 1 of the two part argument, “Do Corporations Have Constitutional Rights? Where’s the proof?”
    https://clydewinter.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/do-corporations-have-constitutional-rights/

    As Section 1 of the 14th Amendment established important rights for ALL of us, the 13th Amendment, which powerfully and importantly abolished slavery in the USA – also did so for EVERYONE! There is no mention of anyone’s color or gender or nationality in the 13th Amendment either. Slavery – period – was abolished from then on – period. The 13th Amendment is not just for (now long deceased) African slaves and their descendants. The 13th Amendment protects ALL people. If that were not so, then (other categories of) people could be legally enslaved in the USA, today or tomorrow. The 13th Amendment, too, belongs to and protects the human rights of every person.

    In other words, we the people ALL have a huge personal stake in “owning”, protecting and defending the 14th Amendment, as well as the 13th Amendment. They are truly OUR Amendments – they belong to ALL of us. The 14th Amendment is not just “one of those amendments for newly freed black slaves”. That would make it all but obsolete today. And it is definitely not obsolete. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment simply but beautifully defines citizenship in the USA, and strengthens and extends the explicit Constitutional rights of citizens and of persons. Thank you, by the way, for providing, in your revised article, the actual words of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, so that people can see this beautiful, concise, unambiguous wording for themselves.

    This history brings me to question continuing implications and the not so subtle suggestion in the newly revised article featured here, that something is wrong with the 14th Amendment. For example, “After slavery was abolished, the table was set for the rise of the corporation as ‘natural person. This came about as a result of a manipulation of the wording in one of the post-Civil War amendments, which together were designed to abolish slavery and grant citizenship and the right to vote (men only) to African-Americans, including former slaves. The 14th Amendment, the linchpin of corporate personhood, could have been worded to specifically exclude artificial persons …”.

    These words in the newly revised article, “Are Corporations People?”, falsely imply that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, together only benefited male African-American former slaves, and that the abolition of slavery is causally connected to the emergence of Constitutional rights for corporations, and that there were fatal flaws in the wording of the 14th Amendment. The most outrageous falsehood in this passage is the slanderous mis-characterization of the 14th Amendment as “the linchpin of corporate personhood”.

    It is a blatant misrepresentation to imply a causal connection between the abolition of slavery and the rise of the corporation as a “natural person”. It is certainly far-fetched to imply and unsupportable to postulate that if slavery had not been abolished, we the people would not be afflicted today by unrestrained corporate power, which has usurped our inherent Constitutional rights. If you don’t mean to imply that, then why would you write it as you did? Rather than brandishing your unwarranted, non-specific criticism of the wording of the 14th Amendment, you should instead, review and self-criticize your own writing that “the table was set for the rise of the corporation” and “this came about as a result of …wording in … the 14th Amendment”.

    And it is a commonly held, but woefully and (easily proven) incorrect belief today, that the usurpation by corporate power of the Constitutional rights of a person, and thus the laying of the cornerstone of modern corporate law, came about as a result of a “loophole” or (as you rephrased it in your revision) “manipulation of the wording” of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment by a ruling of the Supreme Court in a now infamous (but then obscure) 1886 Supreme Court case, named “Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company”. First, the Supreme Court did not decide, or even consider, any question of corporate rights with regard to the 14th Amendment (or the Constitution in general) in that case. Second, it is incorrect beyond question to characterize an infamous assertion made by the corrupt clerk of the Court at that time, that without any logic or justification or authorization or any legal import whatsoever, sought to unilaterally and outrageously redefine the Constitutional meaning of the word “person”, rises to the level of either exploiting an alleged “loophole”, or is “a manipulation of the wording”, in the 14th Amendment. That clerk’s assertion is nothing more than a blatantly self-serving lie, with not a shred of credibility hanging on it. We must guard against, and expose continuing instances of, the outrageous slander and misrepresentation that the 14th Amendment is in any way, shape, or form culpable or responsible for the usurpation of Constitutional rights by corporate power. If, for example, someone claims that the biblical commandment, “Thou shall not kill”, justifies a systematic campaign of murder, is it in any way valid for people to then say that there is some “loophole”, or “manipulation of the wording” in the commandment? No, the fault is in the inexcusable failure in reading comprehension or in the insane interpretation, not in the wording of the commandment. C’mon, man, wake up! The reason for the usurpation of Constitutional rights and Constitutional power by corporations, lies in a continuing and escalating judicial coup d’etat that has been undertaken by fraud from time to time, beginning in the 19th century, by certain members of the Supreme Court. The reason is neither a “loophole” nor a “manipulation in the wording” of the 14th Amendment. And none exists, anyway.

    It is not an accident, nor is it the first or only time, that the 14th Amendment has been the “fall guy” for the most egregious, outrageous denials of human rights and violations of the U.S. Constitution. First, as you pointed out, is the fact that the 14th Amendment has only very rarely (statistically) been cited and employed by the Supreme Court to defend and protect human rights. It has been cited far more often by the Supremes in cases brought to defend increasing corporate power.

    A most ironic instance happens to be one that also closely parallels in important ways our current Movement to Amend to establish that corporations do not legitimately have Constitutional rights. The Women’s Suffrage Movement struggled for many frustrating generations to establish equal rights for women, importantly including the right to vote, in the USA. When the 14th Amendment was ratified, women (many of whom were active and leaders in the movement to abolish slavery and to enact the 14th Amendment) immediately initiated a legal case on the grounds that the 14th Amendment rendered the denial of voting rights to women unconstitutional. That case was heard and decided by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade before the now notorious1886 case that has been blamed and credited with establishing the cornerstone of modern corporate law. In the case concerning women’s rights and the 14th Amendment, the majority Opinion of the Court outrageously ruled that the 14th Amendment did not apply to women or their right to vote. That blatant Supreme Court denial of “the privileges and immunities of citizens”, and of “the equal protection of the laws” for “any person”, quite obviously contradicted and violated the U.S. Constitution, despite the clear wording of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. But that is what the Supreme Court ruled, so that became the law of the land. And it took another three and a half decades of organizing and uphill struggle to overturn that denial of justice by the Supreme Court before the 19th Amendment was ratified. The 19th Amendment actually shouldn’t have been necessary in order for women to not be denied the right to vote, because the 14th Amendment already prohibited any state from denying any person the equal protection of the laws.

    Anyone can check and verify my assertion here, by reading the official Opinion of the Court in the case, “Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company”. It’s relatively easy to do that, because the ruling in that case was unanimous, and only one Opinion of the Court was written and made part of the official record. The writing of the Official Opinion of the Court was assigned to Justice Harlan. Read that Opinion, and you will see that what I said above is correct. Virtually nobody reads the Official Opinion of the Court. However, virtually everybody who has read about this case has read, at least a certain, infamous portion of the headnotes to the case. But the headnotes are NOT a part of the official record. Anything that is not the official Opinion of the Court – and that includes headnotes, which are written only “for the convenience of the reader”, has no legal weight or consequence, whatsoever. The directly pertinent portion of Justice Harlan’s official Opinion for the unanimous Court in that case, stated that questions of Constitutional law involving “recent amendments to the national constitution … belong to a class which the court should not decide unless their determination is essential to the disposal of the case … Whether the present cases require a decision [by the Supreme Court] of them depends on the soundness of another proposition, upon which the court below [the appeals court] … did not deem it necessary to pass. We allude to the claim of the defendant [railroad company] … that the entire [tax] assessment is a nullity [based upon certain described technical grounds, having nothing to do with whether a corporation is a “person” in the meaning of the Constitution]….
    “If these positions [the grounds for these defendant’s claims] are tenable, there will be no occasion to consider the grave questions of constitutional law upon which the case was determined below [that is, by the appeals court]; for in that event, the judgment can be affirmed [simply] upon the ground that the assessment cannot properly be the basis of a judgment against the defendant. ….
    “… As the judgment can be sustained upon this ground, it is not necessary to consider any other questions raised by the pleadings and the facts found by the court….”

    Now, you may or may not have followed this excerpt quoted from the official Opinion of the Court in this case. But a close reading and review will make crystal clear to most everyone, that the often quoted, probably quite familiar to you, sentence or two from the clerk’s headnotes to the case, do not in any way, shape, or form agree with the official Opinion of the Court in this case. The official Opinion of the Court stated that the Court was not inquiring into, or ruling on any “grave questions of constitutional law”, because the case can and should be decided on other narrower, more directly applicable grounds, which they did list, examine, and decide upon. The clerk, on the other hand, wrote for the headnotes [and I’m just paraphrasing here, calling upon my defective memory alone] that the Supreme Court asserted that corporations are ‘persons’ in the meaning of the due process and equal protection of the laws clause in the 14th Amendment.

    Several things are thus made clear, if one investigates and then refers to the facts, not the myths. First, the Supreme Court did NOT, in this case, establish for the official record, that corporations have the Constitutional rights of a person. The Supreme Court officially declined to investigate or rule on that question in this case. The Supreme Court did NOT establish ANY Constitutional precedent in this case. The only “cornerstone of modern corporate law” that was laid in this case was a thoroughly fraudulent crumbling sham left behind by a clerk. Second, the Supreme Court official Opinion did not even cite the 14th Amendment by name, much less quote or refer in any way to it’s wording. Third, the wording of the 14th Amendment was not “manipulated” by the thoroughly corrupt clerk. He merely made a blatantly false assertion about Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, baldly and without any attempt at justifying or explaining an outrageously false statement that corporations are “persons” in the meaning of the final clause of the 14th Amendment. It is simply not correct to characterize what that clerk did as “manipulating the wording”. “Manipulating the wording” implies that the wording was defective and vulnerable to manipulation. That is NOT the case. He just blatantly took it upon himself to falsely re-define the word “person”, contrary to the meaning of that word as it is used throughout the Constitution – including the undeniable meaning of the word “person” as it is used in the very next sentence in the 14th Amendment. There is no loophole in the 14th Amendment. No manipulating of the wording was done by anyone, and I doubt that any “manipulation” of the 14th Amendment to turn it upside down, on its head, is even possible. Blatant violations and outrageous, unjustifiable contradictions are possible. But “loopholes” and “wording” that can be “manipulated”? Not hardly. That is a very bad choice of words to describe either the 14th Amendment or what happened to it during that 1886 Supreme Court case.

    Finally, I’d like to suggest that you carefully consider making the following changes in wording or expression when writing, talking, or thinking about this subject.
    First, change the title of this article to “Is a Corporation a Person?” Or perhaps the following: “Is a Corporation a Constitutional Person?” Many people are offended, and become guarded if not hostile, when you say, “Corporations aren’t people”, and answer “yes” when you ask, “Are corporations people?” However, no one is confused when you say, “a corporation is not a person”, or ask, “Is a corporation a person?” Second, instead of saying “corporate personhood”, say “corporate Constitutional rights”. They do NOT mean the same thing. “Corporate personhood” is legal-jargon that is open ended and imprecise and encompasses far more than our core principle embraces. Our core principle and objective is that corporations do not legitimately have Constitutional rights, and that we the people intend to put an end to corporate Constitutional rights.

    This reply to a comment contains almost as many words as our entire Constitution contains. That embarrasses me, and makes me want to slash away with the big red pencil. But unless we succeed with our Movement to Amend, and abolish from our tangled thicket of Constitutional case law, the unjustified and unjustifiable legal doctrine that corporations have the Constitutional rights of a person, we won’t have a Constitution worth saving, we certainly won’t have government that is of, by, and for the people, and we will have consolidated complete corporate control of government, of our personal lives and future, and of this once lovely planet and it’s ability to sustain life as we know it. The stakes are higher than they have ever been before. Are we the people up to it?

    Reply
  4. pewestlake pewestlake

    Good grief, Clyde!

    You appear to have missed the entire point of this article. The reason the title is “Are Corporations People?” is because that’s the concept most people are familiar with. The very first sentence explains that the term “corporate personhood” is inaccurate. I know the difference between corporate constitutional rights and corporate personhood, which is why the last paragraph begins, “Abolishing constitutional rights for artificial entities,” instead of, “Abolishing corporate personhood.” Also, bear in mind that we’re talking about all artificial entities, whether created by law (corporations), regulated by law (most labor unions) or unincorporated and unregulated (eg, most Parent Teacher Associations).

    Everything you say about Santa Clara Co. v. Southern Pacific RR is true, but it does represent the first time the concept of extending to corporations the rights guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment is advanced in connection with the Supreme Court, even if fraudulently. But it wasn’t the only time.

    In Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania (1888):

    “A private corporation is included under the designation of ‘person’ in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, section I.”

    In Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway v. Beckwith (1889):

    “Corporations are persons within the meaning of the clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution concerning the deprivation of property, and concerning the equal protection of the laws.”

    The Fourteenth Amendment is the linchpin of constitutional rights for artificial persons. That is a fact. It is not the fault of the Amendment or the drafters of the Amendment. However, that the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment as the justification for the expansion of rights for artificial entities is factually undeniable.

    I did not and have not criticized the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment. I said the language was “manipulated.” As you can see from the sections of two Supreme Court rulings within a few short years of the Santa Clara case, that is exactly what happened. You can call it a fraud, a rape or a ham sandwich. Nonetheless, it is the expansive definition of the word “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically, that lent constitutional justification to the extension of rights to artificial entities. It is not a slander of the Fourteenth Amendment to describe the many instances in which the Supreme Court manipulated the definition of “person” in the Amendment to expand the rights of artificial entities. If there is a slander, it belongs to the Justices on the Supreme Court, not those of us who accurately describe the results of their judicial activism. I don’t care how passionate you are about the Fourteenth Amendment, lashing out over minutia at those of us who are actively working to achieve the goal of restoring the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment is counterproductive at best.

    As to your points on the three-fifths rule, the end of slavery didn’t “cause” the expansion of constitutional rights for artificial entities, it merely “set the table” for it, which is 100% true. Prior to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, there was no constitutional justification for the expansion of rights for artificial persons. In the early years following the American Revolution and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, the idea that people could be property was accepted as a legal fact. To propose that property should be afforded the same rights as people would have been laughable in that climate, even among supporters of unfettered business. Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) is a perfect example of the limits of a business-friendly federal government. The trustees of the college got what they wanted but nobody was going to pretend that the college had a claim to the Bill of Rights. Your description of how the three-fifths rule came about is almost identical to mine, only more verbose. There are precious few constructive critiques I can glean from your treatise but one of them is to consider wording that passage more clearly.

    You have inaccurately described the outcome of Minor v. Happersett (1875), the women’s suffrage ruling you mentioned. The Supreme Court readily accepted that Minor, a woman, was a citizen of the United States, but it held that the constitutionally protected privileges of citizenship did not include the right to vote, which is true. There is no guaranteed right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, which means there’s no mandate on the states to protect that right, even under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. Voting eligibility was and still is the jurisdiction of the states, with only those prohibitions stipulated in the Fifteenth (“race, color or previous condition of servitude”), Nineteenth (women), Twenty-fourth (poll tax) and Twenty-sixth (18 years of age) Amendments. With respect to your statement about my implication that the Fourteenth was designed to benefit males only, I might have accidentally omitted a comma but the parenthetical statement comes directly after “right to vote.” That the right to vote is not guaranteed by the constitution, that state laws prohibited women from voting (at the time) and that prohibitions against state restrictions on voting had not yet been enacted is all true.

    Thank you for the suggestions on my wording but, again, you have entirely missed the point of this article, which is intended to provide some background on the use of the terms people have become familiar with and provide an accessible amount of detail about the difference between “corporate personhood” and “constitutional rights for artificial entities,” which, btw, is a far more accurate and transpartisan statement than “corporate constitutional rights.” And functionally, there is no difference between “are corporations people?” and “is a corporation a person?” That’s just silly. Anyone who reacts with hostility to the question is already fixated on a position they won’t re-open to debate. Move on.

    Also, you need to understand that there’s a marketing component to all of this. While we’re quibbling over mostly irrelevant minutia, the average American’s eyes are glazing over. In this instance, asking Americans to understand the history is far less important than asking them to understand the outcome and how to fix it. The polling data shows that the vast majority of Americans are already on our side but don’t really know what to do, or believe that nothing can be done at all. Primers like this aren’t designed to satisfy those of us who don’t mind wading through the weeds. They’re designed to show people who don’t normally get involved in civic issues that the problem is neither arcane nor intractable. Please bear that in mind before you launch your next salvo.

    pw

    Reply

  5. Saying that the 14th Amendment is the “linchpin” of corporate usurpation of Constitutional rights, is like saying that the 1st Amendment is the “linchpin” of the movement to eliminate blasphemy and pornography, or that the 2nd Amendment is the “linchpin” of efforts to eliminate individual gun ownership, or that the 4th Amendment is the “linchpin” of the NSA and the USAPATRIOT Law and wholesale dragnet search and seizure without cause or proper search warrant. The word you are looking for is “fall-guy” or “target” or “designated victim”, not “linchpin”. Saying that the massive, unceasing violation, disregard, disdain, disrespect, and blatant perversion of the important, human rights provisions of the groundbreaking 14th Amendment, from the time of its ratification right down to the present day, is somehow due to a fault or mistake in the wording of the Amendment itself, is like saying that the appearance or the conduct of a victim of violent rape was the cause of the outrageous assault on her.

    On another point, the two cases that you cited to me on Sept. 6 are indeed interesting and worth studying.  I have done so, and here is a very quick intro to what I have learned.  

    It is appropriate and, I think, important to point out to you (and to POCLAD, MTA, FSP, etc. that the quotations that you (and others) provided in reference to those cases (Pembina Mining v. PA, and Minneapolis & St.L RR v. Beckwith) are NOT quotations from the official Opinions of the Court.  It seems so “authoritative” and intimidating to see those quite absolute statements in quotation marks, directly associated with the names of those cases.  And the effect, unfortunately, is to “close the case”; to shut up the losers whining that a corporation is not a person, with the inexorable weight of apparently mounting Supreme Court decisions; to cut off further (or any!) inquiry; and finally, to leave our Movement only in the hands of those crazy people who won’t let little things like facts change their minds.  

    But those are NOT quotations from the official Opinion of the Court record.  I saw both quotations in a summary presented by a web site, without attribution.  Perhaps those statements were written by an anonymous staffer for the web site, or a “contributer”.  Perhaps they were authored by a clerk of the Court.  Perhaps they were excerpted from arguments made by an attorney representing a party in the case.  In any case, they are NOT quotations from the Supreme Court Justice who authored the Opinion of the Court. And the Opinion of the Court is the only thing that “counts”, legally.  

    I have examined what I believe may be a copy of the official Opinion of the Court in each of those cases.  And just as I learned when I actually studied the Opinion of the Court in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886), the first thing that I learned was that these unofficial “summaries” do not do the actual ruling Opinion justice.  In fact they can and do sometimes misrepresent, or even flatly contradict (as in the important case of SCC v. SPRRC) the official Opinion of the Court. And I learned that if I want to actually learn anything useful to our Movement about these and other cases, I’d better read the official record, not the widely publicized sound-bite summaries.

    I’d like to tell you what I learned from actually studying the Opinion of the Court in those two cases that you recommended to me. But that’s another story, for another day and another post. Don’t let it pass. It’s pretty damn useful and helpful to our Movement – besides being mighty interesting.
    https://clydewinter.wordpress.com/category/move-to-amend/

    Finally, wrt the women’s suffrage denial by the Supreme Court in 1875, as I recall, the Supreme Court in that case did not even examine whether women, as a class, being denied the right to vote, was a case of a denial by the (state) government of the Constitutional right of any person to receive the equal protection of the laws. The fact that there is not an explicit Constitutional protection of the right to vote does not in any way mean that the denial of the right of any woman to vote is an unconstitutional denial of the equal protection of the laws. For example, there is not an explicit Constitutional protection of the right to ride a horse, or the right to own a horse, or a house, or the right to file for divorce. However, would you not agree that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment clearly prohibits any state from enacting or enforcing a law that prohibits any woman from riding a horse – or owning a horse – or owning a house – or filing for a divorce? I don’t recommend using corrupt, self-serving Supreme Court arguments to justify Supreme Court rulings. I say, call it a spade if it’s a spade.

    Reply
    • pewestlake pewestlake

      No, Clyde, saying that the Fourteenth Amendment is the linchpin of constitutional rights for artificial entities is acknowledging that the Supreme Court would not have been able to expand the definition of “natural” personhood without it. There is no other language in the US Constitution that could be manipulated to achieve that outcome, just as there is no other language outside of the First Amendment that could be interpreted to include the spending of money as a form of speech. That simply is the way it is and no amount of love for the perfection of the Fourteenth Amendment can change the history of what it was used for. The Fourteenth Amendment is not a “victim.” It is a set of words on a page. The victim here is the American people. The perpetrator is the Supreme Court. And the weapon is the fraudulently expansive definition of “person” as interpreted in the Fourteenth Amendment. I don’t know why you choose to split hairs on this point to such a degree but it’s not worth the bandwidth after this.

      You keep misunderstanding or misinterpreting the language of this article. The wording of the amendment is not being blamed. The Supreme Court is. But let me make something perfectly clear. Using violent rape as an analogy is an insult to rape victims and will no longer be tolerated in this context. I will delete any future comments that include such a boorish analogy.

      You’re right that those specific words are from the summary and not the opinion of the Court. However, unlike Santa Clara, the summary is an accurate reflection of the opinion of the Court.

      Pembina

      The application of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to the statute imposing the license tax in question is not more apparent than the application of the clause of the Constitution to the rights of citizens of one state to the privileges and immunities of citizens in other states. The inhibition of the amendment that no state shall deprive any person within its jurisdiction of the equal protection of the laws was designed to prevent any person or class of persons from being singled out as a special subject for discriminating and hostile legislation. Under the designation of “person” there is no doubt that a private corporation is included.

      Minneapolis

      …as to the alleged conflict of the law of Iowa with the clause of the fourteenth amendment ordaining that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. That clause does undoubtedly prohibit discriminating and partial legislation by any state in favor of particular persons as against others in like condition. Equality of protection implies, not merely equal accessibility to the courts for the prevention or redress of wrongs and the enforcement of rights, but equal exemption with others in like condition from charges and liabilities of every kind.

      Pembina is clear. Minneapolis is less so, but in the context of the case, which was brought by a corporation claiming a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the summary is accurate. Having gone through the same process of sourcing quotes directly from the opinions themselves, I’m not sure how the summary quotes snuck into my timeline but I’m going to fix them. Thanks for the heads up.

      The point about Minor v. Happersett is that the Court didn’t issue an opinion stating that women were not considered persons. The plaintiff did not argue the case on the grounds of equal protection, but on the grounds that a woman, as a person and citizen, cannot be denied rightful privileges and immunities.

      The Constitution does not define the privileges and immunities of citizens. For that definition we must look elsewhere. In this case we need not determine what they are, but only whether suffrage is necessarily one of them.

      Obviously, they determined that it was not. If the case had been argued on the grounds of equal protection, perhaps it would have gone in Minor’s favor, but the Court was not asked and did not choose to pursue that route. I know fully well the pitfalls of citing the Court as an authority in the context of a movement to amend the Constitution to undo some of their works. The point I was making was a narrow one, based on the mistaken belief that the Court did not recognize women as persons and citizens in the Minor case. I was also mistaken when I first learned about that case, but upon closer inspection found it was not as has been publicized in certain circles.

      Reply

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