Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The rights of corporations

It is unfortunate that there is a split within progressive ranks on the issue of corporate rights to publishing and promoting partisan material . This all proceeds from a corporate-sponsored hatchet job about Hillary Clinton. On one side is the group which recognizes the danger of powerful businesses distorting the political process. On the other side are those, like the ACLU, who see suppression of this "documentary" by campaign reform laws as a blow at free speech.

Sorry, but both sides miss the real point, which is the treatment of corporations as if they were people having the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights. Even though this concept is supported by the usual knee jerk conservatives, it is an example of judicial activism from the 19th century. That era saw the amassing of tremendous economic and political power by the railroads, banks and other corporate entities. The turning point was the infamous case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) which established that these entities were the equivalent of individuals, and hence had human rights. This case specifically determined that the 14th ("due process") amendment, passed to protect ex-slaves, applied to corporations as well. It opened the door to the application of the other amendments also. Surely the "Founding Fathers" would have been outraged -- especially Thomas Jefferson. American "conservatives", who supposedly abhor judicial activism, have eaten it up, thus showing that conservatism in the U.S. is simply another name for protection of the rich and powerful.

The rift within liberalism caused by the Hillary Clinton work is easily remedied: pass laws explicitly declaring that only human beings have the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. This would go a long way toward restoring the true support for human freedom that this country was based on.

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