Home > constitution, equal protection, federalism, Lessig, limited liability, speech, states > Speech and Sociopaths: Does it make sense to collapse, for Constitutional and legal purposes, the distinctions between human beings and corporate "persons"?

Speech and Sociopaths: Does it make sense to collapse, for Constitutional and legal purposes, the distinctions between human beings and corporate "persons"?

Further to my preceding posts on corporate “free speech”, let me copy here for those interested some parts of a post by legal blogger/law prof Kimberly Hauser, and excerpts of the comment thread (emphasis added).

Says Hauser:

Justice Kennedy stated in the majority opinion: “If the First
Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing
citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in free
speech.”  Hold on, Emily Litella, since when is a corporation an
“association of citizens.”  The last time I checked, they were
state-chartered entities organized for the purpose of operating a
business, making a profit, and sheltering the organizers of the
business from personal liability.  I don’t think anyone would mistake
one for an “associations of citizens.” 
This decision is a travesty on
a number of levels, but as I discussed with my classes today,
corporations are not humansThomas Jefferson stated: “A bill of
rights is what the people are entitled to against
every government on earth, .  .  .”  These rights are human rights,
essential to our type of government.  They should not be cheapened by
their extension to corporations. 
(I do understand that corporations
have been given “rights” over the years by the Supreme Court, starting
with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company.  I just don’t agree with that line of decisions.  And while I agree with Stevens’s Dissent in Citizens, I don’t agree with his adherence to the “corporations are people too” position.)

From the comment thread:

… The root of the problem is that corporations are divorced from their
owners, who have been given a grant of limited liability for the risks
they shift to society, a cloak of anonymity by which they can behave
irresponsibility and seek favors from government, as well as unlimited
lives and deep pockets to make persistent efforts to corrupt.

on February 7, 2010 at 4:27 am | Lampie The Clown

… You mentioned the Santa Clara case as the start of
corporate personhood, without mentioning that it was sleight of hand
and not a real ruling on the subject. That’s exactly what the clerk was
counting on, and why it worked. Just thought I’d tell the rest of the

Actually, long before the Santa Clara case, the legal fiction of
corporations as people was established to include five legal rights—the
right to a common treasury or chest (including the right to own
property), the right to a corporate seal (i.e., the right to make and
sign contracts), the right to sue and be sued (to enforce contracts),
the right to hire agents (employees) and the right to make by-laws
(self-governance). They were given the rights they needed to do the
only thing they were designed to do. Conduct business.

They are amoral, profits and self interest as highest priority are
mandated by law to be part of their design, and they have limited
liability. This gives them the “personality” of a sociopath, and makes
them unsuited by design to using free speech responsibly.

With the current design, the only solution I can think of is to have
Asimov’s “three laws of robotics” made part of all corporate charters. ….


One commenter defended the Court with a straight face:

Corporation IS an “association of citizens”– those citizens are the
shareholders, i.e., owners of said corporation, who associate ever so
often (annual meetings, and other special occasions)

And as for objections to “corporate personhood”, as a person is
created by human parents and grows in a mother’s womb, so too is a
corporation. It is created by the (human) people who sign its original
charter, and the “womb” that allows the corporation to be ‘born’ is
that of the [government] agency that grants corporate charters. The difference
between the two different types of “births” are, in my opinion,

(Eventually, human embryos won’t have to be implanted into a person
in order to be born– so the “birth from a human” objection will cease
to have merit.)

As for Lampie’s argument that corporations have “the personality of
a ’sociopath’, (which) makes them unsuited by design to using free
speech responsibly”, this argument that discriminates against REAL
sociopaths (who as far as I know, STILL have their free speech rights
unencumbered by the SCOTUS decision or any comments you’d make to the
contrary). Sociopaths have rights, too!

My sense of humor is a bit underdeveloped, so at first I ignored the “sociopath” assertion and penned a straight response regarding the “association” assertion:

Shawn, several points:

while real people do associate to form a corporation, a corporation
remains a legal fiction created by governments, not the people
“associating” with it. It is legally separate and distinct from them and their
ownership right is considered property.

– Since a corporation is peoples’ property, those [people who own it] have
Constitutional rights to make sure their property is not unjustly or
without due process taken by government.

Other forms of property, like human slaves, were not considered
citizens and did not have Constitutional rights, including a right to
If slaves and inanimate things couldn’t/can’t speak for Constitutional
purposes, neither does it make any sense to argue that corporations – as
opposed to the people in them – can “speak” under the First Amendment.

– Further, it is crystal-clear that the Founding Fathers hated
corporations, and the ability of states to closely restrict them and to
impose conditions on the privileges and rights they received was
uncontested. It is a radical and profoundly non-originalistic step to
conclude, as the Roberts/Scalia court did, that the Founding Fathers
intended [in the Bill of Rights] to provide Constitutional speech rights to corporations.

Then, getting the joke about sociopaths, I couldn’t resist making a didactic point:

presumably your comment is wholly tongue-in-cheek, but let me note that
we hunt down and lock away (and even execute) sociopaths – thus
depriving them not merely of their speech, but of their ability to harm
us and even their existence in some cases.

If corporations are by nature sociopathic, then we by all means ought to do the same.

Note that we don’t need to lock up corporations; we can find various
ways to change their nature, control their bad behavior and limit their
ability to hurt us – the simplest way, of course, would be to simply
eliminate the limited liability of their shareholders, who would then
have every incentive to control what their [not-so-]little Frankensteins do.

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