My friend and esteemed Keloland colleague, Cory Heidelberger, weighed in on corporate personhood on the Keloland blog. I think that Cory is confused about the case and more importantly about the issue. He writes this:
A corporation is not a person. The law and a majority of the current Supreme Court say it is, but they are wrong. As Justice John Paul Stevens said from the bench in dissent yesterday, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”
Well, maybe not; but corporations can act and be held legally responsible for their actions. If Cory is correct, then corporations could not be sued in Court. That is what legal personhood means: the name of a corporate body can appear on one side of the v. in a case name. If the law says a corporation is a legal person then, by definition, it is that kind of person.
Without legal personhood, Planned Parenthood could not have taken a position v. Casey; nor could the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye have sued the city of Hialeah when the latter tried to legislate it out of the city limits. Neither abortion rights organizations nor churches have beliefs, feelings or desires. Moreover, corporations could have no legal rights, so the Government could step in at will and seize the Sierra Club’s treasury and any property it collectively owns. Or, to put it slightly different, the Sierra Club could not own property. I doubt that Cory is really committed to any of these consequences of his declaration.
While I read the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowing corporations to donate to political campaigns…
I confess that I haven’t read all 183 pages of the decision yet, but I am pretty sure this is wrong. Corporations can be restricted from donating to political campaign organizations under this ruling. But the Government cannot prevent a corporation from acting independently to buy time on TV or space in print to express an opinion about an election.
Cory goes on to accept corporate personhood, arguendo, and then he presents us with this scenario:
Suppose I, a person, amass a vast sum of money (through hard work and wise investing). I run for state senate against Russ Olson. Two weeks before the election, I offer the Madison Daily Leader, KJAM, and every other media outlet that reaches our district four times their going rate to buy every available ad space.
I think this fails as a counterpoint, since many people with vast sums of money do run for office. John Kerry did so. So did Governor Corzine in New Jersey. We see how that worked out.
But my friend’s arguendo demolishes his point. If a real person like Cory could present this kind of threat to the political system, then personhood obviously isn’t the issue. The issue is what freedoms persons, corporate or individual, ought to have and, as Cory’s title has it, what constraints government can put on those freedoms.
I know of no one who thinks that corporate persons have all the rights under the Constitution that individual persons have. I am not sure how Chuck E. Cheese could enjoy freedom of religion, or how Victoria’s Secret, without a physical body, could enjoy the freedom of assembly. But I do think that the ACLU and the NRA have the right to take positions on issues and to buy media space to advocate those positions. If they have it, so does Merck, Inc. Barring Cory’s imaginary scenario, I don’t think Government has the legitimate power to prevent us from hearing what these corporate bodies have to say.