'Corporations Are People' Is Built on a 19th-Century Lie - The Atlantic


33 bookmarks. First posted by farley13 march 2018.


'Corporations Are People' Is Built on a 19th-Century Lie - The Atlantic
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12 weeks ago by bfortner
How a farcical series of events in the 1880s produced an enduring and controversial legal precedent
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. How exactly did corporations come to be understood as “people” bestowed with the most fundamental constitutional rights? The answer can be found in a bizarre—even farcical—series of lawsuits over 130 years ago involving a lawyer who lied to the Supreme Court, an ethically challenged justice, and one of the most powerful corporations of the day.
history  capitalism  business  1800s  legal  SCOTUS 
june 2018 by rgl7194
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of…
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april 2018 by elnaril
A few years later, in an opinion in an unrelated case, Field wrote that “corporations are persons within the meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. “It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,” explained Field, who knew very well that the Court had done no such thing.

His gambit worked. In the following years, the case would be cited over and over by courts across the nation, including the Supreme Court, for deciding that corporations had rights under the Fourteenth Amendm...
history  u.s.a.  money  corruption 
april 2018 by iamfantastikate
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of…
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march 2018 by yudha87
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of…
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march 2018 by peterwhelan
'Corporations Are People' Is Built on a 19th-Century Lie - The Atlantic

How a farcical ser…
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march 2018 by piskvorky
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of…
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march 2018 by peterjblack
This is happening now!
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march 2018 by Vietvet52
Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of…
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march 2018 by johnrclark
Most detailed story I have seen on this subject, very informative.
CorporatePersonhood 
march 2018 by jete.jeter
That corporation was the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, owned by the robber baron Leland Stanford. In 1881, after California lawmakers imposed a special tax on railroad property, Southern Pacific pushed back, making the bold argument that the law was an act of unconstitutional discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. Adopted after the Civil War to protect the rights of the freed slaves, that amendment guarantees to every “person” the “equal protection of the laws.” Stanford’s railroad argued that it was a person too, reasoning that just as the Constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of racial identity, so did it bar discrimination against Southern Pacific on the basis of its corporate identity.
march 2018 by spectrevision
By tradition, the reporter writes up a summary of the Court’s opinion and includes it at the beginning of the opinion. The reporter in the 1880s was J.C. Bancroft Davis, whose wildly inaccurate summary of the Southern Pacific case said that the Court had ruled that “corporations are persons within … the Fourteenth Amendment.” Whether his summary was an error or something more nefarious—Davis had once been the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company—will likely never be known.

Field nonetheless saw Davis’s erroneous summary as an opportunity. A few years later, in an opinion in an unrelated case, Field wrote that “corporations are persons within the meaning” of the Fourteenth Amendment. “It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,” explained Field, who knew very well that the Court had done no such thing.

His gambit worked. In the following years, the case would be cited over and over by courts across the nation, including the Supreme Court, for deciding that corporations had rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Indeed, the faux precedent in the Southern Pacific case would go on to be used by a Supreme Court that in the early 20th century became famous for striking down numerous economic regulations, including federal child-labor laws, zoning laws, and wage-and-hour laws. Meanwhile, in cases like the notorious Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), those same justices refused to read the Constitution as protecting the rights of African Americans, the real intended beneficiaries of the Fourteenth Amendment. Between 1868, when the amendment was ratified, and 1912, the Supreme Court would rule on 28 cases involving the rights of African Americans and an astonishing 312 cases on the rights of corporations.

The day back in 1882 when the Supreme Court first heard Roscoe Conkling’s argument, the New-York Daily Tribune featured a story on the case with a headline that would turn out to be prophetic: “Civil Rights of Corporations.” Indeed, in a feat of deceitful legal alchemy, Southern Pacific and its wily legal team had, with the help of an audacious Supreme Court justice, set up the Fourteenth Amendment to be more of a bulwark for the rights of businesses than the rights of minorities.
history  america 
march 2018 by corrales