Category: political system

Corporations as Persons – Freedom of Speech, now Right to Privacy – Bring on Three Strikes!

The case of the Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T1 now being heard before the US Supreme Court raises anew the craziness of the thinking that has position corporations to be “persons” in the first place.

Noun vs Adjective!

First we have several of the justices focusing argument around the difference between “persons” and “personal”.

But several justices said it was too much of a leap to go from saying that corporations might be “persons” for some purposes to saying that their “personal privacy” could be invaded. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said he could think of many instances “where the adjective was very different from the root noun.” “You have craft and crafty,” he said. “Totally different. Crafty doesn’t have much to do with craft. Squirrel, squirrelly. Right?” “Pastor and pastoral,” he went on. “Same root, totally different.”

Can they be serious that the issue here is the difference between a noun and an adjective and the not novel observation that a common root does not universally generate a common smenatic value?

Common Usage

As reported, during the oral arguments, “Can you give me any examples in common usage where people would refer to the personal privacy of a corporation?” Justice Scalia asked Mr. Klineberg. “Do you have any examples from The New York Times, from, you know, Boswell, from anywhere, that anybody refers to the interests of a corporation as the ‘personal privacy’ of General Motors?”

Following Scalia’s line of argument, we might ask ourselves to find examples from common usage, excepting those generated by the Court’s long standing finding that corporations are “persons for some purposes”, where people refer to corporations or any business entities as persons. Even corporations only use the impersonal pronouns “it” and “they” in referring to themselves. Certainly corporations acting in groups use the pronoun “we” in the collective sense. But, can anyone find examples where people in common usage use “I” “you”, “he” or “she” in referring to corporations. Corporations certainly never use these pronouns in speaking of the corporation. Ask the common person anywhere whether they think that a corporation is a person in any sense that relates to the classic uses in American history. Does the the Declaration of Independence’s line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Does anyone think that corporations have unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Last year’s Supreme Court decision granting corporations the right to free speech, and by extension the right to spend whatever amounts of money they want to express their opinions, is a now well known extension of the corporation as a person. With the thinking revealed in these oral arguments, who knows where this court could find on the issue of the right of corporations to personal privacy.

Three strikes and you are dissolved!

Perhaps we should envision some further extensions of this thinking. If corporations are persons, then why don’t we apply the same penalties to their misbehavior that we do to real persons? Repeat offenders are regularly sentenced to long terms in jail or even life in prison. Shouldn’t we apply this thinking to corporations and hold them to the same accountability? Three strikes and you are dissolved!

  1. See the NYTimes,  “Court Weighs Whether Corporations Have Personal Privacy Rights” By ADAM LIPTAK Published: January 19, 201 []