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America's Corpocracy: The Legacy of U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Lewis F. Powell (1907-1998)

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Although he did not use the term and might be horrified to witness what it has become, Lewis F. Powell's legacy is today's copocracy, or the Devil's marriage between powerful corporate interests and all three branches of government. The intent of this article is to summarize Powell's role and its aftermath and then to close with a brief preview of a scheme necessary to undo his legacy short of a Second American Revolution.


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The Tobacco Road Lawyer's Manifesto


Except for the defense industry, most industries had never recovered from FDR, whom it loathed worse than any foreign enemy, for he and the U.S. Supreme Court of his time couldn't be high jacked and his New Deal policies were put firmly in place. But the upholders of democracy were completely caught off-guard by what was to transpire.

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It began with a wake-up call in 1971 to a moribund big business and to wealthy conservatives from a most unusual source. Lewis F. Powell was at the time a successful tobacco industry lawyer who specialized in securities laws and who had also been president of the American Bar Association. A staunch advocate of keeping government out of the affairs of business he had become alarmed over what he perceived to be a pervasive assault on the free enterprise system from the gamut of public institutions and the liberal elements of the public itself.   Big business, he fretted, was taking the assault lying down.


So he wrote a memorandum, eventually dubbed Powell's "manifesto," to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dated august 28, 1971 proposing that it lead a counterattack. Business, he wrote, was "ill-equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it" and "have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics" (all quotations are from his memo). He went on to lay out what amounted to a battle plan, apparently to help business conduct "guerilla warfare."


He suggested numerous strategies targeting four major American institutions: education, the media, the political arena, and the courts. The strategies were all very aggressive. A few on paper at least seem militant and even paranoid and Orwellian in nature, to wit: It is "a long road and not for the fainthearted." "There should be no hesitation to attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system." "There must be "constant surveillance of textbooks" and "monitoring of national television networks." Does that read like it's coming right out of some Orwellian pages?   

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This ideologue and corporate lawyer would become just a few months after firing off his manifesto a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Just think of that, a person like Powell taking a seat on the bench of the land's highest (or is it the lowest?) court. The Senate had been derelict in vetting Powell during the confirmation hearings, and even Powell had acknowledged years later to his biographer that he did not expect to be confirmed because of his close links to business (that was certainly putting it mildly). Powell joined the Burger Court that had just a few years earlier succeeded the liberally oriented Warren Court. It had favored citizen over corporate rights and very possibly influenced Powell in criticizing the courts.


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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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