127 years ago today — May 10, 1886, in an important aside in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company 118 U.S. 394 (1886), the Supreme Court concluded that corporations were “persons” entitled to the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution and, therefore, legal participants in the political life of the country.
I say “concluded,” but there is nothing in the decision addressing corporate personhood, just handwritten notes of the oral argument that record Chief Justice Waite as stating, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution . . . applies to corporations. We are of the opinion that it does.” The court reporter subsequently wrote, “The defendant corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
On this inauspicious anniversary, I offer you some archival works from my own efforts to combat “corporate personhood.”
In 2005 I worked and testified in support of LD 1495 in the Maine Legislature: An Act To limit the political speech of corporations. It was defeated then and again when a similar bill was proposed two years later. What a difference a few years make – because the Maine Legislature recently supported the resolution to overturn Citizens United. These things never happen quickly or easily so I’m happy to see opinion change on this issue in my home state.
Others are marking this date, as well. Move to Amend has named this a Day of Action Against Corporate Personhood and offers resources for anyone wanting to plan or host an event. Check their listings for events in your community.