Today corporations have undue influence and power in the world and in our communities. Few people know that a key to this power is the corporate claim to "personhood." To understand personhood we need to look at the history of the 14th Amendment.
"The one pervading purpose" [of the 14th Amendment] "was the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppression of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over him." That is exactly what Justice Miller said in 1873 in one of the first Supreme Court opinions to rule on the 14th Amendment.
How strange it is then that in 1886 a Supreme Court opinion would establish the principle that the 14th Amendment makes Corporations "persons" for purposes of Constitutional interpretation. The opinion gives no guidance to the reason for this principle. The question was not even argued since Chief Justice Waite announced at oral argument that "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."
This opinion has outraged some of the finest legal minds to serve on the Supreme Court. Later Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas both wrote opinions saying that this interpretation of corporations as persons should be reversed.
"I do not believe that the word 'person' in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations."
-- Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black (1938)
"There was no history, logic, or reason given to support that view nor was the result so obvious that exposition was unnecessary." --William O. Douglas (1949)
Not only is it ridiculous to consider corporations to be people, but it is wreaking havoc with our democratic process.
A corporation is not a person. It is an artificial entity created by "We the People" and given our recognition through our duly elected State governments. We the People wrote the Constitution and declared in it people's natural rights.
Corporations are given no rights under the U.S. Constitution and clearly the founding fathers did not intend for corporations to be considered people. Corporate control and tyranny were some of the complaints that sparked the revolution. Most of our original states started out as colonies ruled by corporations chartered by the English king. Not only did our early rebels understand that corporate rule amounted to martial law, they understood that corporations served to protect only an elite of propertied individuals. The struggle in the Colonies against corporate rule lasted over 100 years, up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Having declared that corporations possess the civil and political rights of persons, Supreme Court justices have bestowed free speech for lobbying and propaganda. And since these justices have declared money a form of speech [another questionable court decision] corporations can buy our elections and prevent the people from defining our elections. If we, the real people, deny them a permit to pollute, corporations have the authority to use our courts to reverse those decisions.
In the early 1800s corporations were required to "serve the public good." It was illegal for their object to be "merely private or selfish." For-profit corporations now have the legal obligation to maximize profits for their shareholders and managers. Even if the individual directors or stockholders wanted to serve the public good, they could not.
Our revolutionary ancestors issued corporate charters for a limited number of years, spelled out rules the corporations had to follow, and held business owners liable for harms and injuries. Corporations are now immortal and can grow forever virtually unchecked. They possess limited liability which enables the people who make and profit from decisions to avoid responsibility for their actions. Corporations also lobbied for and received tax benefits to lighten their social burden.
Today, corporations enjoy privileges that real people do not. Corporations have become "super people." Corporations have effectively become our governors.
Today workers must check their personhood and natural rights at the gate as they enter corporate property. But the corporation remains a person and asserts its power wherever it goes.
Corporate values have gradually replaced community values. As corporations strive for faster growth, more consumption, and greater efficiency, We the People lose the things we value: a clean environment, sustainable growth under local control, opportunities to build democracy and the family values of a living wage, universal health care and a good education for all.
Corporations have caused laws to be passed that deny our elected officials authority to safeguard our values, to set priorities based on communities needs; and to protect the people from threats and assaults by the corporations. Today, such is the influence of the corporations in our legislatures that corporate lawyers can push through almost any laws they desire with no public debate.
There has been no real challenge to corporate power for 100 years. Revoking corporate personhood is a logical and vital step in the process of controlling our country and community.
Defining corporations is the citizens historic right and civic responsibility. Years of corporate regulations have been a failure. We need to reclaim the peoples' right to define every aspect of corporate activity.
To halt corporate harm, we citizens must redefine the corporation, reclaim our sovereign authority over the corporation, and revoke the illegitimate claim of corporate personhood. Only then can we reclaim authority over ourselves and our communities. We must order corporations out of the body politic, out of our elections, our schools, our lawmaking, and our courts.
We urge the Point Arena City Council to adopt this resolution.
Therefore be it hereby resolved that:
Corporations shall not be considered persons protected by the authority of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States within the City of Point Arena.
Be it further resolved that:
The City of Point Arena shall nurture public discussion on the proper role of corporations in public life by sponsoring a town meeting on the subject and by encouraging other cities and the State of California to adopt similar measures.