This article provides a brief but fascinating history of the corporate quest for civil (personhood) rights and how dangerous it is to our democracy. (I had no idea it goes all the way back to the end of the Civil War/beginning of the Gilded Age!)
Last week, The Wire creator David Simon told Bill Moyers that the legal doctrine that spending money on political campaigns is an act of political speech protected by the First Amendment poses the greatest threat to American democracy. “That to me was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “If the combination of the monetization of our elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”
He’s right. Not only does money as speech allow those with the fattest wallets to drown out the voices of average citizens, as John Light points out, it also gives wealthy donors an effective veto over policies that enjoy majority support. But it’s important to understand the other ways that the expansion of civil rights for corporations can conflict with the public interest.
As Simon observed, the notion of corporate personhood isn’t inherently problematic. The concept that companies are “artificial persons” is necessary because you can’t enter into a contract with an inanimate object, and you can’t take an inanimate object to court if that contract is breached.
Problems arise when these soulless artificial persons demand constitutional rights that were designed to protect real, flesh-and-blood people. […]
By the way, if you enjoy looking at scanned historical documents, you can find a ton of them at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website. Here’s a link to four high resolution pages of the U.S. Constitution, which is where Wikipedia got their copies. If you prefer to have all four pages as a PDF, you can download it here (7MB).
Most of what you find at NARA should be in the public domain:
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