7.29.2005

MUST READ: On Personhood

From Undernews yesterday, an absolutely critical piece by Norman Mintz of the Neiman Watchdog, "The Question Judge Roberts Probably Won't Get Asked".

The article examines the history of corporate personhood and "corporatism", which I happen to think is the most important (yeah, you read that right) issue in the world. All those people dying of AIDS and starvation in Africa; bombs on the subways, riots and resurgent socialism in South America, the retrenchment of human rights and freedom everywhere, the capture and control by gansters and criminals of the government of the United States . . . corporate personhood and corporatism are at the root. Excerpts:
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868, soon after the end of the Civil War. It declares that no state shall 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." The "person" Congress and the ratifying states had in mind "the human being in need of equal protection, particularly in the states of the old Confederacy" was the newly-freed slave. Nothing in either the text or the legislative history of the Amendment suggests otherwise . . .

Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite and all of the Associate Justices chose not even to hear oral argument. Instead, in 1886 "a mere 18 years after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment" Waite simply announced: "The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a state to deny any person the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.". . .

The late Justice Hugo L. Black was scathing about the Waite court's pronouncement. "Neither the history nor the language of the Fourteenth Amendment justifies the belief that corporations are included within its protection," he wrote in a dissent in Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. v. Johnson (1938). He continued:

"Certainly, when the Fourteenth Amendment was submitted for approval, the people were not told that [they were ratifying] an amendment granting new and revolutionary rights to corporations. The history of the Amendment proves that the people were told that its purpose was to protect weak and helpless human beings and were not told that it was intended to remove corporations in any fashion from the control of state governments. The Fourteenth Amendment followed the freedom of a race from slavery .... Corporations have neither race nor color."

The contrast between the Court's handling of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad and its handling of Roe v. Wade nearly 90 years later is stark. The Roe justices were fully briefed. They heard oral argument. They long deliberated. In the end, they decided - among other things--that in the first trimester of pregnancy a fetus is not a "person" within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In the same article, Thomas Hartmann goes on to point out some critical historical phenomena:
After 1886: While to this day unions, churches, governments, and small unincorporated businesses do not have "human rights" (but only privileges humans give them), corporations alone have moved into the category with humans as claiming rights instead of just privileges.

Before 1886: In many states, it was a felony for corporations to give money to politicians, political parties, or try to influence elections.

After 1886: Corporations claimed the human right of free speech, expanded that to mean the unlimited right to put corporate money into politics, and have thus taken control of our major political parties and politicians. [The Tillman Act of 1907 prohibited corporations and nationally chartered (interstate) banks from making direct financial contributions to federal candidates. But the law was rendered ineffectual by weak enforcement mechanisms; indirect contributions, particularly via PACs; contributions by corporate executives and employees, and a 1978 Supreme Court decision invalidating - on First Amendment grounds - a Massachusetts criminal statute forbidding banks and businesses from making certain expenditures intended to influence the vote on referendum proposals.] . . .

Before 1886: Government, elected by and for "We, The People," made decisions about how armies would be equipped and, based on the will of the general populace, if and when we would go to war. Prior to WWII there were no permanent military manufacturing companies of significant size.

After 1886: Military contractors grew to enormous size as a result of WWII and a permanent arms industry came into being, what Dwight Eisenhower called "the military/industrial complex." It now lobbies government to buy its products and use them in wars around the world . . .

Before 1886: Corporations were chartered for a single purpose, had to also serve the public good, and had fixed/limited life spans.

After 1886: Corporations lobbied states to change corporate charter laws to eliminate "public good" provisions from charters, to allow multiple purposes, and to exist forever . . .
In the coming months, I plan to write more about how we might reverse this evil. Hint . . . it has to do with (1) the personal decisions you make, (2) how much courage you have, and (3) your ability to say, "Kiss my ass, Wal-Mart".