Corporations are People

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September 21, 2009 by J. Madson

colbertI thought I would add some more info to go along with Jason’s post on the historic SCOTUS case that could dramatically change elections to being even more dominated by money and corporations. New justice Sotomayor gave us this glimmer of hope

During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court’s majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong — and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

Colbert probably had the most insightful thing to say about this case in his broadcast from last week where he spent much of his show focusing on the Citizens United Supreme Court case. As the previous post noted, this case could lead to deregulating our entire campaign system. Colbert explained how all this insanity of corporate personhood started:

Colbert explained that the 1886 case (Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad) that conferred 14th Amendment equal protection rights onto corporations wasn’t even in the original ruling. But when the Chief Justice made an off-hand comment that the Court wouldn’t hear an argument on whether the 14th Amendment applied to these corporations (saying, “We are all of the opinion that it does”), the court reporter wrote it into the ruling opinion, and the precedent has held ever since. And that reporter of the Supreme Court didn’t only have ties to the railroad barons, he used to run one.

As Digby pointed out

These are subjects you just never hear about in the American media, precisely because the American media is owned by giant multinational corporations, who benefit from the corporate personhood rule and would stand to benefit more from deregulating elections so they could use their “speech” to buy candidates and fund their own with unlimited resources. And despite being on a Viacom-owned network, Colbert says, skewering the immorality and psychopathology of the corporation, “Corporations are legally people… they do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River.”

Jeffrey Toobin explained during the second segment of the show the effects of the expected court ruling:

COLBERT: If this goes through, if they decide in favor of the corporations here, what’s going to happen to elections?

TOOBIN: Well, they will be essentially deregulated. Corporations will be allowed to give money, corporations will be allowed to broadcast programs that are in favor of one side or another, it’ll basically be no more rules about what corporations can do in political campaigns.

COLBERT: Now when I ran for President in 2008, as the Hail to the Cheese Doritos Stephen Colbert campaign for President, I was told that I actually couldn’t do that, that I was breaking federal election law by being sponsored by that corporation. But if this goes through, if this court case, if they win, does that mean that I retroactively won the election?

TOOBIN: I don’t think it means that.

COLBERT: But could you do that? Could I actually just wear a NASCAR suit and just have logos all over me and run for President as the sort of Gatorade Thirst for Justice campaign for President?

TOOBIN: You definitely could. No question.

COLBERT: What does it mean to individual donation? A corporation, as a person, gets to give any amount of money, but I as a person can give only $2,500.

TOOBIN: That’s what’s potentially the next legal challenge. Because if giving money is a form of speech, as the Court has held at various times, you can’t prohibit a company from giving money. And then presumably the next step would be that you couldn’t have limits on how much individuals could give either. That’s the potential implication of this decision.

COLBERT: So right now, corporations would actually have more power as people than people, until people catch up with corporations.

Segment One, Segment Two

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