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[greenyes] Fwd: [empowering_democracy] Corporate Personhood Is Doomed

From: "Charlie Cray" <ccray@no.address>
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 13:11:24 -0500

I think Sanford is correct that over 100 years of case law since the 1886
Santa Clara decision have enshrined the notion of corporate personhood. That doesn't make it right, of course. And Thom Hartmann's book (Unequal Protection) exposes the fallacy of the premise that the Supreme Court evaluated this issue and made a monumental decision that corporations are persons. In fact, they did no such thing, though that's been the assumption since then. Corporations have illegitimately staked a claim to constitutional rights since then, and many decisions have backed that illegitimate claim. Hartmann does a good job of explaining the implications.

The challenge comes in developing a strategy to overturn this situation.
This is huge. I don't think telling people that we need a constitutional
amendment (without filling in a lot of blanks) is any more responsible than
Bush telling us that he supports hydrogen-fueled vehicles. I.e. people want to know what we can and should do (realistically) today. As those who have worked hardest on this approach understand, we are in the early stages of what must be viewed as a struggle that in all likelihood will last for decades. At this stage we are still in the early education/movement building stage, struggling to reframe the debate in order that more people understand the importance of challenging the corporate claim to constitutional rights. And so that more people -- activists, constitutional scholars and other lawyers, labor unions, etc. begin to develop strategies that follow this approach.

The Porter Township resolution was an excellent example of how this can be translated into community organizing. There remain questions as to how far that approach will go. E.g. what happens when there's a court challenge that shoots it down at the behest of a corporation? Will other communities with NIMBY/NIABY (not in anyone's backyard) struggles against WalMarts, sludge dumps, landfills and other undesirable corporate projects view those resolutions as effective if they've been shot down in the courts? Maybe, if they feel part of a bigger movement. But if the goal of the next local community struggle is to win their immediate battle, then it's a stretch to imagine they will replicate the approach taken in Porter Township if such a resolution is shot down in the courts and there are other approaches to the struggle that will stop the problem. I'm not trying to argue against the approach; it's just that we need to anticipate these questions in our strategy. Start flanking what happened in Porter Township with judicial strategies and other movement building/networking strategies.

Also, community organizing is very important, but not the only means of
building this movement. Another thread in to start from an analysis of those rights that corporations have staked a claim to and work backwards to the organizing approach. I.e. challenge corporate claims to specific rights. E.g. the corporate claim to free speech. This might break the issue down in a way that others (labor, sweatshop, campaign finance reform) might find useful. It will probably provide more tactical/strategic organizing handles than trying to overturn "personhood" all at once. (Though it seems difficult for these movements to reframe their work around this approach to begin with).

The Nike case is a good example of how to open up a new chink in the
corporate armature. Jeff Milchen and colleagues at Reclaim Democracy have a good web page about the Kasky v. Nike case. (see

As Sanford I think is suggesting, this is a good opportunity to broaden our
efforts to educate people about the illegitimate rights of corporations. But
it's unlikely that the Court will address whether or not they have those
rights any more than they are likely to delineate the boundary between
commercial and political free speech, and whether one or the other applies in this situation. That said, really what's discussed inside the Supreme Court doesn't matter all that much for our purposes (drawing attention to the question of why corporations should have any rights at all I think is an excellent goal, and the subplots of this case -- like the pressure on the ACLU -- have been pretty effective in broadening the debate). Clearly it is an opportunity to push these ideas out into the mainstream. A front page article in the NYTimes about the case has proven that.

-----Original Message-----
From: Sanford Lewis [mailto:gnproject@no.address]
Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 9:32 AM
To: empowering_democracy@no.address; Gary Liss
Subject: Re: [empowering_democracy] Fwd: [greenyes] Corporate
PersonhoodIs Doomed

Unfortunately, I believe later Supreme Court cases codified the fiction from the original headnote. So it is a harder fight - we basically need a sympathetic Supreme Court... in our lifetimes?

An immediate, probably smaller, test of this issue will come in Nike v.
Kasky, which will determine the scope of Nike's so called first amendment
rights. While some may argue that Nike has NO first amendment right since
its not a person, the inside argument is likely to be about whether or not
those socalled rights  include the right to lie to the public saying that it
does not make sneakers in sweatshops....

Sanford Lewis

-- Sanford Lewis, Attorney Strategic Counsel on Corporate Accountability PO Box 79225 Waverly, MA 02479

781 894-0709
419 735-8935 fax

Gary Liss 916-652-7850 Fax: 916-652-0485

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