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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/16/12

Corporate Personhood Cannot Withstand Organized Persons

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There are many schemes now for undoing the doctrines under which corporations claim constitutional rights and bribery is deemed constitutionally protected "speech." Every single one of these schemes depends on a massive movement of public pressure all across the homeland formerly known as the United States of America. With such a movement, few of the schemes can fail. Without it, we're just building castles in the air. Nonetheless, the best scheme can best facilitate the organizing of the movement.

The U.S. Constitution never gave any rights or personhood to corporations or transformed money into speech. It ought not to be necessary to amend a document to, in effect, point out that the sky is blue and up is not down. If the Supreme Court rules that Goldman Sachs can send legislation directly to the White House and cut out the congressional middleman, will we have to amend the Constitution to remove the Goldman Sachs branch of government? Where will this end?

The Constitution also never gave the Supreme Court the power to overturn every law passed by Congress. In fact, the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to set exceptions and regulations on what types of cases the Supreme Court can take. So, Congress could take some types of cases away, although it might have to be a great many.

The Constitution also allows the Congress to impeach and remove Supreme Court justices. Congress could remove the most corrupt one or two or three or four or five and only consent to new justices opposed to corporate personhood.

Congress could also just ignore the Supreme Court on this matter and pass a flood of legislation regulating and stripping corporations of their outrageous claims to power, compelling the court to take up case after case.

The reason none of these things is happening is, of course, the weak link smack in the middle of them: Congress.

Lower courts and/or state legislatures could likewise place sanity and decency above the "Citizens United" Supreme Court -- if judges or delegates had the nerve to become what the New York Times might mock as "justice vigilantes." The Montana Supreme Court has just done this, so it can't be simply dismissed.

Amending the Constitution seems harder and more extreme than most other schemes. But that fact is itself a reason to favor amending the Constitution. Doing so ought not to be viewed as extreme. It is a sign of disease in our political system that we view it that way. There is tremendous benefit in the act of amending the Constitution itself, and we should have amended it and completely reworked and rewritten it many times by now. Instead we've barely tweaked the thing, and with the exception of an amendment on Congressional salaries proposed in 1789 and finally ratified by Michigan in 1992, we haven't touched the Constitution at all in over 40 years. By amending it through a process with popular support, we can reassert the power of the people over the government and open up the possibility of amending the Constitution further.

We have a horribly outdated broken system of government that stifles democracy. The closest thing to democracy in it is the process by which it can theoretically be amended. I would strongly favor amending the Constitution even if it were only to cross a t or dot an i. Amending it to end corporate personhood and money-speech is, thus, an important goal for multiple reasons. And it opens up the possibility of creating other systemic reforms in the process if we convene a new Constitutional Convention.

Amending the Constitution can be begun by Congress and completed by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Or it can be begun by two-thirds of the state legislatures and completed by three-quarters of them. So, one weak link is the states. Another possible weak link is the Congress. The only way to strengthen either of them is with intense, deep, and wide-spread nonviolent people power. And that power can be energized by and organized around a desired amendment. This approach has the advantage of building power in the states, where state legislatures and courts can be urged to also attempt other approaches to the same problem. And it has the advantage of circumventing Congress if necessary. If you ask me, most people are underestimating the likelihood that such circumvention will be necessary.

A great boost to the effort is's development of what many now see as the ideal amendment:

Section 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law. The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2. Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate's own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure. Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed. The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
Section 3. Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

This is very similar to the amendment proposed by

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.
Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

The above has the advantage of having been introduced already in the U.S. House by Congressman Jim McGovern as HJRes88. Promoting that amendment can help build the movement, but the text of it leaves wealthy individuals who are not corporations but actual flesh-and-blood billionaires the power to consider the spending of money on elections as protected speech. The MoveToAmend version does not have this weakness.

Other amendments are also worth promoting despite various limitations. Congresswoman Donna Edwards' HJRes78 also does not address money as speech and does not address the overarching question of corporate rights (the problems with which are not limited to elections), but it does create the power for Congress and states to regulate and restrict (it does not say eliminate) corporate political spending. Similarly, so does Congressman Ted Deutch's HJRes82.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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