Next they'll be having birthday parties
hold on a second...
Is Wal-Mart a Person? Thom Hartmann Tells Why It Is--Kind of--But Not Really
...corporations are asserting that they...should stand side-by-side with humans in having access to the Bill of Rights. Nike asserted...that these corporations have First Amendment rights of free speech. Dow Chemical...asserted it has Fourth Amendment privacy rights and could refuse to allow the EPA to do surprise inspections of its facilities. J.C. Penney asserted...that it had a Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from discrimination -- the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to free the slaves after the Civil War -- and that communities that were trying to keep out chain stores were practicing illegal discrimination. Tobacco and asbestos companies asserted that they had Fifth Amendment rights to keep secret what they knew about the dangers of their products.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Thom Hartmann is a familiar name to regular BuzzFlash readers, thanks to his contribution of monthly book reviews. He also hosts a syndicated radio talk show, heard on radio stations from coast to coast, the Sirius Satellite Radio system, on CRN, and on RadioPower.org. As the author of Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, he has given us a history lesson in how corporations have insinuated themselves into the U.S. Constitution and claimed for themselves the rights that were meant for living, breathing human beings. Here Thom Hartmann answers our questions about personhood, rights, constitutional history and big business as it impacts politics and each and every American.
* * *
BuzzFlash: Let's start with the basic premise of Unequal Protection. In essence, what is "corporate personhood" in terms of current American law?
Thom Hartmann: "Corporate personhood" is the notion that a corporation has the rights of a person under the constitution.
Prior to the founding of this nation, with the exception of a brief period in Greece, the history of the previous 7000 years of what we called "civilization" was that one of three types of rulers were the sole holders of rights. Society was ruled by either warlord kings; theocratic popes, mullahs or variations thereof; or the very rich. And they ruled both by virtue of their personal wealth, power, or knowledge of a god's will, and because they represented a ruling institution (the kingdom, church, or either land or a corporation).
Largely through the power of their institutions, they were the sole holders of "rights," and all the non-institutional humans -- the serfs, common people, and even the very tiny precursor of the middle class, the mercantilists and guildsmen -- had only "privileges," which could be revoked more-or-less at will by the holders of the rights.
The extraordinary experiment that was the basis of American democracy in a constitutionally limited republic was to flip this pyramid upside down. The Founders of this republic said in the Declaration of Independence, and the Framers of the Constitution proclaimed in the preamble to the Constitution, that humans -- "all men" to quote the Declaration, "We the People" to quote the Constitution -- were the sole holders of rights from that point forward.
This was firmly nailed into the Constitution by the addition of the Bill of Rights, which gave humans a huge club they could use to beat back government if it ever were to become oppressive.
Thus, with the founding of America, for the first time, only humans could hold rights. Institutions -- churches, civic groups, corporations, clubs, even government itself -- held only privileges. Of course, you'd want government -- that is, We the People through our elected representatives -- to control the privileges of institutions like corporations. And that's what we did. For example, to prevent kingdom-like accumulations of wealth that could, as Jefferson noted, "threaten the state" itself, corporations in the first hundred or so years of this nation couldn't exist longer than 40 years, and then had to be dissolved. Their first purpose had to be to serve the public, and their second purpose to make money. Their books and all their activities had to be fully open and available to inspection by We the People. Their officers and directors could be held personally liable for crimes committed by the corporation.
This held as a legal doctrine until the end of the 1800s, and even after that largely held until the Reagan Revolution, when corporations began reaching back to an obscure headnote written by a corrupt Supreme Court clerk in an otherwise obscure railroad tax case in 1886.
But today corporations are asserting that they -- and only they -- should stand side-by-side with humans in having access to the Bill of Rights. Nike asserted before the Supreme Court last year, as Sinclair Broadcasting did in a press release last month, that these corporations have First Amendment rights of free speech. Dow Chemical in a case it took to the Supreme Court asserted it has Fourth Amendment privacy rights and could refuse to allow the EPA to do surprise inspections of its facilities. J.C. Penney asserted before the Supreme Court that it had a Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from discrimination -- the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to free the slaves after the Civil War -- and that communities that were trying to keep out chain stores were practicing illegal discrimination. Tobacco and asbestos companies asserted that they had Fifth Amendment rights to keep secret what they knew about the dangers of their products. With the exception of the Nike case, all of these attempts to obtain human rights for corporations were successful, and now they wield this huge club against government that was meant to protect relatively helpless and fragile human beings.