Unequal Protection Under the Law

Thom Hartman and Ralph Nader discuss the mysterious legal concept of “corporate personhood” and its profoundly anti-democratic implications in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

By the way, where’s the fulminating outrage from the right-wing about the “activism” of the Supreme Court judges in this instance that overturned more than a century of legal precedent and flouted their own purported doctrine of constitutional “originalism” in order to advance what can only be described as a corporatist ideological agenda?

22 Replies to “Unequal Protection Under the Law”

  1. America is fucked. I don’t see that country lasting another century. Either there will be another civil war; or some kind of financial dissaster that will cripple them permanently. My only worry is that, when the shit hits the fan, some of it will splatter on us.

    As far as the right-wing noise machine, they’re just waiting for Beck to tell them what to think. And we all know what that will be.

  2. While we’re busy “tut-tutting” the U.S., something to consider:

    David Suzuki, during the last election, was very happily driving all over Canada in his magic bus, telling everyone who would listen that Stephen Harper was ruining the world, with his now well known slogan, “If you were Prime Minister”..

    Looking at his donors – those donating over $1 million to the David Suzuki Foundation included:

    – Stephen R. Bronfman Foundation – heir to the Seagrams empire, and fundraiser for Stephane Dion;

    – Power Corporation of Canada – Paul Martin was the former President of Canada Steamship Lines, then subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada, until Martin made the provident bargain to actually purchase CSL from Power Corporation of Canada. Another former board member of Power Corporation was.. oh yeah, Jean Chretien;

    – Patrick and Barbara Keenan Foundation – who is Patrick Keenan? Well, he is a director of Brascan Ltd., and who is Brascan? Well, among other things, you might remember Brascan as the owner of Royal Lepage Relocation services, who was caught in the middle of a flap about Liberal business being given to their supporters (do you recall Adscam?). You see, as reported back in 2005 on CTV, the Liberal Party was called on the carpet for handing out a billion dollar contract to, well, Royal Lepage, who, in turn, was owned by Brascan, who, in turns out, donated more than $90,000.00 to the Liberal Party of Canada in the previous seven years.

    Now, there are campaign advertising laws in Canada that are intended to limit third party campaigning to under $150,000.00, and requires those parties to register with elections Canada.

    Guess those laws don’t really matter so much though, apparently.


    Canada.. yeah, we have our own problems.

  3. *sigh*

    I could, but what’s the point – as I did on BCL, I can spend the time to educate you, but it won’t make any difference anyway.

  4. I don’t generally encourage let alone enforce rules about “staying on topic,” but in this particular instance, can we try to stick a bit closer to home regarding the legal fiction of “corporate personhood” and how the landmark SCOTUS decision impacts the democratic process.

  5. Corporate “personhood” is a bothering idea. To the point that corporations are permitted to own copyrights on DNA, and other genetic factors that make human being what we are. How long before new parents have to pay a copyright fee just to have children?

    Wasn’t it sometime in the late 1800’s that corporations were deemed persons by the SCOTUS, simply to benefit the railroad barons of the time?

    What we’re seeing here will be the wholesale buying of elections by US companies. And therein lies my belief that the US is screwed–when profit based companies can buy elections, Americans are not far from lining up to get their ration of Solent Green.

    America will be the largest corporation on the face of the earth and it’s citizens “independant contractors”

  6. I’ve been mulling this over since yesterday, in light of Glenn Greenwald’s relative satisfaction with this decision. A thorny issue with the constitutional protection of speech in the US is that is it a articulated as a negative freedom (the Constitution only says that Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of the speech or the press, etc.). By contrast, in Harper v. Canada, which found that limits on 3rd-party spending were constitutional, the SSC argued largely within the context of a function of a particular type of speech, in this case, the relation of political speech to the democratic rights of Canadians (set out in the Charter).

    I’ve never liked the protection of speech through its articulation as a negative freedom because it ultimately allows no deliberation about the power and influence expression has in shaping our reality, a lot of it positive and a lot of it negative. It basically implies (by omission) that all expression is equal, an irrationality that requires all kinds of legal distortions in law to overcome when restrictions seem to be required (such as when it comes to limiting obscenity) and ignores the fact that expression has little objective reality outside of its relationship between its originator and its audience, the freedom of whom is at issue, whether some people like that or not.

    I know that has nothing to do with corporate personhood, a legal fiction that really has to be done away with, once and for all.

  7. The concern, frankly, over corporate personhood is a little exagerrated. What is to stop a “group” of persons (breathing actual people) from gathering to raise money and then to use that money to accomplish a political purpose.

    And how is, for example, the Mormon Church, a collective of “persons” less of a concern than, say, a one man corporation who happens to support a political idea?

    And how is it that if that same person pays for the advertising AFTER he gets the money out of his company is protected by the Constitution, but BEFORE he get’s the money out, he isn’t?

    Corporations, on their own, don’t espouse any political principals at all. Without a human being to give them animus, they do nothing.

    So what we’re really talking about is the right of PEOPLE to express themselves, who happen to organize through the use of a corporation.

    The issue is about MONEY. Not about whether it’s a corporation or a human who is spending it. It’s always a human spending it.

  8. The concern, frankly, over corporate personhood is a little exagerrated.

    Thank you. You’re dismissed.

  9. The whole idea of putting restrictions on corporate donations was not have corporate owned politicians — a kind of NASCAR of politicians, if you will. Running for office, especially our highest offices, costs an enormous amount of money.

    Obama showed that it was possible to raise large sums of money by garnering the support of millions of people. What the SCOTUS has done is to nullify that by corporations with a few donations. Now corporations can hand-pick “friendly” politicians and start a complete marketing blitz for them unabated. Think of the barrage of annoying commercials flooding the airwaves for the latest movie, but now for a politician.

  10. Rob — There is a great muddle of ideas in your comment.

    Let’s take one to start with: how is, for example, the Mormon Church, a collective of “persons” less of a concern than, say, a one man corporation who happens to support a political idea?

    This is a particularly nettlesome scenario you’ve concocted, pitting the interests of a religious organization against those of a corporation — a perverse complication that just seems to needlessly confuse matters. You’ve also been more than a little disingenuous in the employment of the expression “one man corporation”…

    How can I tell you’re a lawyer? 😉

    But for the sake of argument, let’s simply turn your question on its head, with a bit of a twist:

    How are the interests of Rupert Murdoch more of a concern than hundreds of thousands of people that contribute to public television?

  11. How are the interests of Rupert Murdoch more of a concern than hundreds of thousands of people that contribute to public television?

    Ah, but that is the curious yet puzzling part about corporate personhood. What I see here is the belief that capacities, virtues, rights, and freedoms afforded to the individual, as in you, me, or anyone can be translated and mapped equally or closely onto this distinct entity that is a corporation. I submit that this assumption is wrong because the complexity already afforded to the rights and freedoms of each ‘individual’ are in reality, already complex and difficult as Ti-Guy described. However, since we dealing actual people here, defining and conceptualizing rational, individual self-interest is not entirely a daunting task.

    In corporations, it is not clean cut really objectively because what defines the ‘individual’ in this case is the culmination of a collective group of interests. Although they are unified under the desire for profit, qualitatively defining their self-interest, politics, virtues beyond that simple financial metric is nebulous and varied. However, a corporation can amass influence, power, and resources to exercise its individualism that can effect policy and public opinion in a profound way. If not, the sophisticated marketing campaigns, their penchant for social responsibility, and lobbying would be useless.

    For me, this is where it makes me think a little. Any time a corporation comes under scrutiny, there is no doubt that the officers are held accountable. Nonetheless, I have always thought that given the corporate structure, there exists a buffer between the individuals who manage the company the individual as a corporation. In some instances of malfeasance, the liability stops at the corporation, which means responsibility and accountability is effectively dispersed rather than flowing through and being a attributed to one person per se. I know that the CEO is responsible, but when Monsanto is sued and has to settle, the CEO only is accountable managerially insofar as his or her Board is concerned. In contrast, if a person is sued and has to settle, he or she has to feel the brunt of all the consequences of his or her actions well beyond the legal ones. In other words, these is no disconnect.

    It is within this environment, that people like Rupert Murdoch can enjoy the collective power amplified through corporate ownership while still maintaining individual influence.

    Strangely, I muse that one of the reasons the corporations generally do not get hammered enough in the U.S. is that they generate profit and are part of the economy, so people just accept the structure the way it is. Oddly enough, the collective attributes of the corporations exist in many other institutions, organizations, and movements, yet these entities are branded as parasitic interest groups. The only difference, I can see, is that they do not generate ‘wealth’ in the financial sense.

    I hope this makes some sense. I think of these things in the abstract a lot and illustrating them is difficult. I am sure I am going to come back to this and think: What the hell did I say?

  12. What’s most egregious to me is that the SCOTUS decision seems to enshrine a double-standard whereby corporations can enjoy all the rights and privileges afforded to individuals in terms of “free speech” (which is anything but “free” in this case, at least in the monetary sense) without suffering any of the personal consequences or liabilities encountered by actual, real-life human beings attempting to exercise their right to free expression.

    This seems to be not entirely dissimilar from the preferential treatment of corporations whereby profits are selfishly privatized, but catastrophic losses are socialized. In other words, corporations get the best of both worlds.

  13. I’m trying to remember which wingnut Yank here once posted I knew nothing about what corporatism meant. I think this SCOTUS ruling pretty much confirmed the USA will soon become the dictionary definition of corporatism.

    I also concur with Mr Raposo’s initial statement in this thread, as I’ve been noting similarities between the US pseudo-empire and the Austria-Hungarian empire circa late-1800’s for quite some time. For that matter the middle east sure feels like Europe prior to 1914.

  14. From wikianswers:
    “According to official SEC documents, Microsoft employed 89,809 workers worldwide, as of May 31, 2008.”

    That the choices a CEO, or other senior management make on behalf of a corp this size (or even a quarter this size or smaller), in any way represents the consensus opinion of the employees (or shareholders) that make up the corporation, is laughable.

    A small group of individuals – and often a single individual, make all the major decisions for even the largest of corps. So if Bill Gates decides “Microsoft” should support a politician, or political cause – Microsoft is clearly not making the choice as a whole – he is (and his closests psychophants will of course all agree).

    Rob H. stated:
    “So what we’re really talking about is the right of PEOPLE to express themselves, who happen to organize through the use of a corporation.”

    While this is one possible scenario, the reality is that powerful CEOs of large corps will now be able to use the full financial might (and cover) of those corps, to gain political influence. How anyone thinks this will be a good thing for “free speech” is a complete mystery to me.

  15. I’m still trying to process the concept of people “who happen to organize through the use of a corporation”…

    Sometimes me and the boys head down to the pub, only to find we’ve formed a corporation by the time the first drinks arrive.

  16. It’s a hideous misinterpretation of the Constitution that perverts its fundamental intent. “Corporations are people too” only by virtue of a legal fiction, but extending the rights of free speech to them and equating their resources to the unlimited exercise of public opinion only serves to compound a terrible mistake.

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