Seminal Watercooler – How Corporations Became People
Thursday January 21, 2010
As we begin to digest the unbelievable Supreme Court decision from earlier today, it might be helpful to remember how this whole idea that corporations are entitled to the same rights as individuals began:
1886, in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a private corporation is a person and entitled to the legal rights and protections the Constitutions affords to any person. According to the official case record, Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of arguement in the case:
"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does."
The court reporter duly entered that into the summary record of the Court’s findings. Thus it was that a two-sentence assertion by a single judge elevated corporations to the status of persons under the law, prepared the way for the rise of global corporate rule, and thereby changed the course of history.
In the 22nd century, do you think people will look back on today’s Supreme Court ruling with the same distaste that we look back at this one from 1886? Does granting corporations the right to spend freely on political ads also have the potential to change history?