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Jan 10 2012

Keyboard cat vs Corporate Personhood

Join all these internet memes in fighting against corporate personhood in the United States. It’s probably the single biggest thing you can do to fix the listing ship of democracy. Though Mentos geysers under the listing side of the ship might help too.

Yes, I’m Canadian. What happens in the States has ripple effects throughout the world, like it or not, so of course I’m getting in on spreading this meme.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Does the USA grant the same kind of “personhood” in law to corporation and to people? Ignorant European that I am, I’m used to the existence in our law books (at least here in France) of two kinds of “legal personhood”, one for human beings, the other for corporations. The latter includes limited rights compared to what human beings are granted.

  2. 2
    Cathy W

    Irene – not being a lawyer myself, I can’t say for certain exactly what rights a corporation does and doesn’t have. I do know that the courts have held that a corporation has the right of free speech, which led to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that Congress could put no restrictions on “independent” political expenditures by corporations, because spending money on electioneering is the equivalent of speech. As long as the corporation doesn’t officially coordinate with a candidate (which would make the expenditure an in-kind campaign donation), it can pay to run all the campaign ads, robocalls, or two-hour made-for-tv character assassination jobs (which was what was at issue in the case – “Hillary: The Movie”, which Citizens United wanted to make available on satellite pay-per-view) it wants.

    This is probably the biggest single reason people are taking exception to the idea of “corporate personhood” lately…

  3. 3
    baal

    We in the US used to have the same distinction and still might.

    The Citizens United v. FEC, 129 S. Ct. 2893 – 2009 case that the US-SCT decided in late 2009 used language that makes is sound like corporations are people in the natural persons meaning when it comes to free speech (1st amendment) rights.

    This change has overturned laws that have stood to limit corp. power and role in elections since the late 1800s.

    Interestingly, AT&T (large telecom) tried to argue that its corporate personhood had a right to (human person) personal privacy 4th amendment. AT&T lost. This outcome wasn’t a surprise since the SCOTUS has rules against privacy in nearly every case for the last 40 years.

  4. 4
    michaeld

    That’s it I demand 3000% more lizards in political ads!

  5. 5
    rturpin

    Citizens United did not rule that corporations are people or that they have the same rights as people. It maintained, as the court long has maintained, that corporations have 1st amendment free speech rights. The basis for that is the 1st amendment itself, which explicitly protects “the press.” For a century before the Constitution was framed, the press mostly was a set of businesses.

    McCain-Feingold knew it couldn’t suppress the political speech of the New York Times or of ABC, so it tried to carve out an exception for the media. The 1st amendment quandary is precisely what that means and how that can be done. Here is what the court said in its Citizens United ruling:

    The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish betweencorporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. “We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional presshas any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.” ..

    The law’s exception for media corporations is, on its own terms, all but an admission of the invalidity of the antidis-tortion rationale. And the exemption results in a further,separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by itsown terms, the law exempts some corporations but coversothers, even though both have the need or the motive tocommunicate their views. The exemption applies to mediacorporations owned or controlled by corporations that havediverse and substantial investments and participate inendeavors other than news. So even assuming the mostdoubtful proposition that a news organization has a right to speak when others do not, the exemption would allow a conglomerate that owns both a media business and anunrelated business to influence or control the media in order to advance its overall business interest.

    I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the left about how to write a Constitutional amendment that says “corporations aren’t people.” But that wouldn’t affect Citizens United one bit, because corporations do form part of “the press”!

    The problem is quite a bit thornier than distinguishing between corporations and people. The problem — short of repealing the 1st amendment and eliminating the free press — is how to distinguish corporations that count as “the media,” and therefore enjoy 1st amendment protection, from those that aren’t and don’t. Presumably the NYT, NBC, and Disney would be part of the protected group, while GE, Chevron, and Dupont wouldn’t be. Except… GE owns NBC. See the problem? And what about Citizens United, Inc.? It was formed for the express purpose of publishing political material. How could it not be part of “the press” that the 1st amendment is meant to protect?

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