A call to implement the NLG Resolution on Corporate Constitutional Rights
By Greg Coleridge
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of Move to Amend and the proponent of NLG’s 2022 Resolution on Corporate Constitutional Rights | firstname.lastname@example.org
More than a decade prior to the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, the NLG adopted a resolution just ahead of its 1998 annual convention on the theme of “Fighting Corporate Power.” It stated in part, “Giant corporations increasingly govern our lives and communities and define our work and our culture, eroding democratic values, and pillaging the environment.” and further, “[t]here exists a growing mass people’s movement that contests the authority of corporations to govern and works toward restoring sovereignty in the hands of the people, to put human beings back in charge as they should be in a democratic polity.” It went on to propose numerous actions for individual members and at the time its “Committee on Corporations, the Constitution and Human Rights” to undertake to challenge and reverse the judicial doctrine of corporate constitutional rights (a.k.a. “corporate personhood”).
A quarter century later, the frequency, intensity, and breadth of corporate entities to govern, define, erode, and pillage is profoundly greater.
Judicial decisions over the last century granting corporate entities many of the same constitutional rights as human persons have resulted in:
- Corporations withholding information from consumers, including dangerous chemical food additives, since requiring the disclosure of such information violated their First Amendment right “not to speak.”
- Corporations avoiding surprise or warrantless inspections to protect the health and safety of workers and the environment, since such actions violated their Fourth Amendment “privacy rights.”
- Corporations compensated for lost future profits from government restrictions of activities designed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, since failure to compensate violated their Fifth Amendment “takings rights.”
- Major corporations treated equally as small businesses or family farms, since favoritism toward locally owned businesses is “discriminatory” under the Fourteenth Amendment – which was intended to apply exclusively to formerly enslaved persons.
- Corporations corrupting elections through campaign contributions – including dark money donations and so-called “independent” expenditures – since prohibiting corporate political spending violates their First Amendment “free speech” rights.
Court awarded constitutional rights have immensely increased corporate political power, which has been used to capture and weaken public officials, to preempt local and state enacted laws and to limit the ability of public agencies to regulate (nevermind prohibit) destructive or dangerous activities.
Corporate rule over literally every aspect of our lives and society is not inevitable or irreversible. Just as it was intentionally and strategically created, it can be uncreated. As a state supreme court decision many decades ago asserted:
The corporation has received vitality from the state; it continues during its existence to be the creature of the state; must live subservient to its laws, and has such powers and franchises as those laws have bestowed upon it, and none others. As the state was not bound to create it in the first place, it is not bound to maintain it after having done so, if it violates the laws or public policy of the state, or misuses its franchises to oppress the citizens thereof.
The fundamental solution to ending corporate rule is to abolish all corporate constitutional rights – along with the related constitutional doctrine declared in Buckley v. Valeo that political money spent in elections is free speech. A movement is needed to educate, advocate, and organize to pass the We the People Amendment, soon to be introduced again in the new session of Congress as HJR48 by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D–WA).
NLG members passed a Resolution on Corporate Constitutional Rights last year. It reaffirms the principle that “only natural persons are vested with constitutional rights,” and calls for the endorsement of the We the People Amendment, sponsored by the national group Move to Amend.
It also invites interested members to come together to engage interested members, connect with the public, and work with other organizations toward ending the harms to people, places and the planet posed by corporate constitutional rights.
The NLG’s radical heritage of organizing and providing legal support both inside and outside the courts needs to be reflected in this effort and connected to our other work.
As there was a “Committee on Corporations, the Constitution and Human Rights” 25 years ago to promote the prophetic work of the NLG to educate and organize against corporate rule inside the organization, within the legal profession, and in solidarity with other organizations across the country, there is a need for a similar structure now.
You are invited to join me in launching a new NLG working group to appropriately address corporate rule.