The Corporate Conquest of America

While corporations can live forever, exist in several different places at the same time, change their identities at will, and even chop off parts of themselves or sprout new parts, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to its reporter, had said that they are "persons" under the Constitution, with constitutional rights and protections as accorded to human beings. Once given this key, corporations began to assert the powers that came with their newfound rights.

First Amendment. Claiming the First Amendment right of all "persons" to free speech, corporate lawsuits against the government successfully struck down laws that prevented corporations from lobbying or giving money to politicians and political candidates.

Fourth Amendment. Earlier laws had said that a corporation had to open all its records and facilities to our governments as a condition of being chartered. But now, claiming the Fourth Amendment right of privacy, corporate lawsuits successfully struck down such laws. In later years they also sued to block Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws allowing for surprise safety inspections of the workplace and stopped Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections of chemical factories.

Fourteenth Amendment: Claiming Fourteenth Amendment protection against discrimination (granting persons equal protection), the J. C. Penney chain store successfully sued the state of Florida, ending a law designed to help small, local business by charging chain stores a higher business license fee than that for locally owned stores.

Women Ask, "Can I Be a 'Person,' Too?"

Interestingly, during the era of the Santa Clara decision granting corporations the full protections of persons under the Constitution, two other groups also brought cases to the Supreme Court, asking for similar protections. The first group was women. This was a movement with a fascinating history, its roots in the American Revolution itself.

In March 1776 thirty-two-year-old Abigail Adams sat at her writing table in her home in Braintree, Massachusetts, a small town a few hours' ride south of Boston. The war between the American colonists and their opponents - the governors and the soldiers of the East India Company and its British protectors - had been going on for about a year. A small group of the colonists gathered in Philadelphia to edit Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence for the new nation they were certain was about to be born, and Abigail's husband, John Adams, was among the men editing that document.

Abigail had a specific concern. With pen in hand, she carefully considered her words. Assuring her husband of her love and concern for his well-being, she then shifted to the topic of the documents being drafted, asking John to be sure to "remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than [were] your ancestors."

Abigail knew that the men drafting the Declaration and other documents leading to a new republic would explicitly define and extol the rights of men, but not of women, and she and several other well-bred women were lobbying for the Constitution to refer instead to persons, people, humans, or "men and women." Her words are well-preserved, and her husband later became president of the United States, so her story is better known than those of most of her peers.

By late April, Abigail had received a response from John, but it wasn't what she was hoping for. "Depend upon it," the future president wrote to his wife, "[that] we know better than to repeal our Masculine systems."

Furious, Abigail wrote back to her husband.

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