Corporate “Personhood”

By Gerald Wickham

“The Declaration of Independence” stated that “We the People” charge England with these scores of offenses (by companies of royal cartels) against the citizens of the 13 colonies.  Leading men of “We the People” wrote our Constitution guaranteeing us our rights.  We have within us, now, a group that with guile and influence has gained rights under the cloak of the Constitution and are challenging and succeeding in stealing our rights.  To find out about the power and influence of this entity in our lives please read on.

Americans are becoming more aware every day of the overwhelming power of corporations.  Much of this comes from the granting of person-hood to corporations by the Supreme Court.   Just as U.S. residents have rights of free speech and assembly given by the United States Constitution, so do corporations.

In 1886 the Supreme Court accepted a corporation’s argument that it is a person under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution as are American men and women.  Over the years corporations have gained the rights of free speech and property, plus all the other rights we Americans have.

Corporations have the right to limit employees’ free speech, granted to them by the constitution, while they are on the employer’s premises.  Employees may not assemble on their free time to discuss issues the corporation considers detrimental to them, such as work rules and unionization.  A corporation as a person has property rights in higher standing in the courts than the property rights of “We the People”.  A corporation has the right to pollute its property and cannot be sued for harm to its neighbors.  The Court will side with the corporation if sued.

Corporate beef, pork, and poultry farming are prime examples of polluters who affect their neighbors and are not subject to the law.  Neighbors have no recourse to the stink coming from those enterprises.

The Supreme Court consistently supports corporations over people.   The Court denied stock holders (the owners) the right to sue Janus Funds for making false statements causing a 25% drop in the funds value.   New York State won a $100 million law suit against Janus for its deception.  The Court favored corporations over employees seeking the right to equal pay.  In the Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire, Lilly Ledbetter, for 20 years was paid at 80% of men for the same work.   Because of the secret nature of pay at Goodyear she failed to bring the suit within 180 days as specified by the law.  Instead of ruling on its merits the Court ruled on the law.  Timing supersedes justice.  In the Walmart class action suit, involving 500,000 women, recently before the Court, the oral arguments favor the corporation over the women seeking equal pay. Justice Kennedy, the deciding vote, did not see evidence that the corporate office discriminated against women.  Note: Since this was written the Court decertified the suit, blocking it.  Still the merits of the case stand.

In each of these cases the Court based its decisions on fine points of the law.  In the tardy suit the Court said “Too bad you were late,” not “The law is unconstitutional because you did not receive equal protection under the law.”  In the Walmart suit the Court did not see a

connection between the corporate office’s practice of giving the store manager the authority to select a worker for a promotion, and its selection of store managers.  In the Janus suit Justice Thomas said the company was not liable because it is a separate entity of the mutual funds making the false statements even though the officers in the corporations are interchangeable.  In these cases the Court ruled against equal protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Over the last 20 years the Court has augmented corporations’ free speech rights, equating it with money, culminating with the decision, Citizens United vs. FEC, giving corporations the unlimited use of money in our elections. It certainly follows that corporations have more free speech than “We the People”.  This decision ignited debate and protest among the voters and politicians concerned about an addition of undue corporate power.


In 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that their free speech allowed pharmaceutical corporations to advertise drugs, rescinding a Virginia law banning the practice.  Only in the U.S. and New Zealand do pharmaceuticals advertise prescription drugs.  The Court in a California case said a corporation didn’t have to include, at no cost to itself, a consumer flier in its billing statements.


In Texas Oprah Winfrey was sued by the ranchers’ association for $12 million for saying that “Mad Cow Disease could make AIDS look like the common cold”.  Our free speech here is free only if there is no harm done to a corporation’s bottom line.   Oprah won the case because she could match the ranchers, lawyer for lawyer.


Corporate power and influence is seen in the banking bailout as “too big to fail.”


Companies move manufacturing and development assets overseas, at will, devastating cities and communities to avoid union, environmental, and living wage issues.  Their charters demand no civic accountability for their operations.  TV and radio are cases in point, charging high fees for political electioneering on the airways, belonging to “We the People”.  Their license renewals are routine procedures.  The internet is under attack by the major cable and telephone companies to transform it to their needs thus reducing the small users’ equal access.  Big corporations devour small enterprising companies cutting off their ability to grow and mature.  The three big players in this plot are IBM, Google, and Microsoft who are continually in the news with buy-outs, seemingly enjoyed and encouraged by the young, developing enterprises.

Corporations’ power and influence are not immune to the peoples’ will.  “We the People” can act to change their influence.  We can reduce their power.

The Constitution can be amended so that corporations as conceived by the founders are creations of the people with no rights under the Constitution, but only with rights as stated in their charters.  The primary track to accomplish this is for two thirds of each house of the Congress to vote to amend the Constitution.   The preferred way is for two thirds of the states to call for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution.  This is a time consuming process requiring citizen support.

It is necessary to make “We the People” aware of the power corporations have under the Constitution and to broadcast this to politicians and all citizens.  This can be done at our town and city councils.   A good means is a resolution on corporate person-hood passed by our elected councils.   The City of Point Arena, CA has done this.

Sources on corporate person-hood:

Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights; Thom Hartman

POCAD: Program on Corporate Law and Democracy

Authors on Corporate person-hood:

Robert Weisman

Richard Grossman

Paul Cienfuegos


Doug Hammerstrom

Democracy Now,  April 21, 2009

Envision Spokane Coalition Works to  Get “Community Bill of Rights” into City Charter





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