Skip to comments.Should Unions and Corporations have the Same Constitutional Rights that I do as an Individual?
Posted on 06/22/2011 9:54:40 PM PDT by mrsroman
I had a question posed to me on Facebook about whether or not unions and corporations should have the same inalienable constitutional rights that I do as an individual human being (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Constitutional-Rights-for-Individuals-or-Corporations-Unions/185322941519439) and I havent been able to stop thinking about it
I work for a non-profit organization that protects the constitutional right of citizens to petition their government and, when appropriate, to call for a referendum or recall when a law or elected official no longer serves the people. Citizens in Charge Foundation protects the free speech of over 140 million Americans without regard to politics; I enjoy going to work every day knowing that I am on the front lines protecting that constitutional freedom.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the limitations on corporate money in political ads with its decision in the Citizens United case. The Court cited a violation of corporations First Amendment rights to free speech. Anyone involved in politics knows that this was a controversial decision, even amidst some conservative circles, although the case was brought by a big hitter in conservative political advocacy. While I stand with Citizens United in their mission to restore a government rightfully controlled by the people, this decision has always rubbed me the wrong way.
My favorite founding father has always been Thomas Jefferson. Having lived in Virginia for nearly 10 years, I made regular trips to Monticello and have read pretty much everything I can get my hands on by him or about him. The Jefferson Vineyard also produces some of my favorite wine! During that decade; I also spent a significant amount of time interacting with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Jeffersonian organization dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and individual liberty. Jefferson was a strong and vocal supporter of referendum and so my kinship with him has grown along with my time at Citizens in Charge Foundation.
As fellow history buffs know, Thomas Jefferson talked about his fear of corporate monopolization regularly referring to the selfish spirit of commerce, which knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain. The U.S. Constitution protects free speech as an inalienable right of human beings not entities like corporations and unions. For me, it is a stretch to say that it is self-evident that artificial entities such as a union or a corporation should have the same constitutional rights that I am granted as a human being. I cannot help but think about how the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written as a charter of, by and for people that basically spells out what form of government we are to be governed by and how that government is to be limited in order to protect the peoples inalienable rights.
In 1819, Chief Justice Marshall described the status of a corporation according to federal law: A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of creation confers upon it, either expressly, or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 636 (1819).
Times have changed since then and I certainly believe that corporations and unions should have rights but, should there be constitutional corporate rights? It seems to me that if we are going to expand upon the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, that the people should have some say in that, not just the courts. Why dont we put this issue to a vote of the people? Ask them if they want the artificial entities of corporations and unions to have the same inalienable constitutional rights that they have as human beings.
Now, dont get me wrong, I think that it is unfair to stop some who wish to spend money during an election cycle because some other(s) cannot and it is unfair. I believe that anyone who wishes to spend money in an election individual citizen, small or large corporation, union should be able to do so in whatever capacity they so choose. However, I also strongly advocate that those donations be completely transparent and that all shareholders are involved in the donation decision-making process. I think it is crucial that information is provided to all people which would in turn allow individuals to make an informed decision on how they choose to vote. Why not put the issue of corporate and union disclosure to a vote of the people? Ask them what they want.
As a free marketer & supporter of individual rights, the fact that corporations and unions now have constitutional rights makes me wonder how much farther we are going to stray from the theory of self-governance espoused by our founders.
How should we define the rights, constitutional or otherwise, of unions and corporations? Thats a conversation that I would like to see happen in this country. Individual human beings are different then entities such as unions and corporations. But, lets have the conversation about those rights and what, if any, restrictions & regulations the people feel are necessary for those entities.
The founders often talked about their suspicions surrounding concentrations of power. Specifically, they spoke about keeping corporations in the economic sphere and were wary of their potential to influence the political sphere. Those spheres have certainly been pierced in our modern day world but, lets have a conscious conversation about how we, the people, want our politics to work for us. After all, its a government of, by and for the people.
What do you think? Please take 60 seconds to answer this question on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Constitutional-Rights-for-Individuals-or-Corporations-Unions/185322941519439
The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author, they are not endorsed by her employer or any affiliated organizations.
What about the right to peacefully assemble and petition the Govt for a redress of grievences...
I didnt see a head count limit on that...
And for the record...Unions had that right previous to citizens united....all the ruling did was to put other groups on equal footing as the unions.
If a corp or union cant have freespeech rights...HOW CAN THE TEA PARTY?
game set match...find a different cause..
Inalienable constitutional rights don’t come form government, they are Inalienable because their God given rights. I don’t think they apply to a nonperson.
Why does a news corporation have rights to free speech that other corporations would not also have?
The phrase you are looking for is "natural person," BUT if you try to say it (or anything else) in court, since it is an administrative court, it "presumes" you are speaking as an individual human being in your corporate capacity simply because you are in the court.
Catch 22? Yes. petty-ante legalism bullshit? Yes. Top secret decoder ring knowledge of everyone in the legal system to keep you "legally" enslaved by depriving you of your natural rights and common law jurisdiction?
What on earth are “Inalienable constitutional rights”?
In fact, unions and corporations do not have rights: the individuals who make them up, the members and shareholders, have rights that are not abrogated or abridged by having associated to from a union or corporation.
The correct approach to campaign finance reform is to require that political speech and publication by unions and corporations take place at the behest of the constituent members whose right is being exercised, the members and shareholders, not their theoretical fiduciaries, the union bosses or the management. (I say theoretical, as in this, the Era of Bad Stewards, fiduciaries act on their own behalf more often than on those they supposedly serve.)
Unions should not be able to expend money in support of a candidate or political position without a majority vote of the membership. Commercial corporations should not be able to expend money in support of a candidate or political position without a majority vote of the shareholders (as usual weighted by
number of shares held). That and some not-very-onerous reporting requirement for the amount and beneficiary of such expenditures is all that should be done.
“Inalienable rights” refers to the “Natural Rights or “ Rights bestowed by God” referred to in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, like freedom of expression, property rights, pursuit of happiness, etc. Centuries of common law showed that these rights are integral to human dignity and happiness.
So it doesn’t make sense to say that entities like Unions and Corporations can have the same constitutional rights that as an Individual. It does make sense to prevent government actions that deny the constitutional rights of any individuals involved with these entities.
By the way, what “Inalienable Rights” DON’T is mean is legislation meant to pander to groups, e.g., gay rights, civil rights, human rights, animal rights, women’s rights. Whatever one’s opinion of such legislation, calling them “rights” has the harmful effect of effect of diluting or confusing the meaning of real rights.
“Commercial corporations should not be able to expend money in support of a candidate or political position without a majority vote of the shareholders (as usual weighted by
number of shares held).”
So IBM can have any other expenditure decision made via the shareholders’ proxies on the Board of Directors, and the IRS can demand IBM as a corporation pay income taxes as a single entity. But ... each instance of political speech must wait on a vote by shares of millions of shareholders ? Logistically impossible ! Such a rule would be tantamount to denying corporations political speech. Taxation without representation is evil.
An alternate solution:
Eliminate the Corporate Income Tax entirely, and require any regulations be approved by a commission whose members are appointed by the Corporations affected by the area of regulation. Regulations approved by the commission would then also need to be approved by a randomly selected jury of citizens to ensure the regulations do not pose barriers to new entrants to the industry. That way Corporations will have protections against governmental tyranny and little interest in politics.
So Corporations should be taxed as single entities and subject to legal action and regulation as single entities — yet they should be required to poll their millions of shareholders before they can engage in political speech ?
It’s bad enough that corporations can’t actually vote in elections and are thus denied representation in Congress. Denying them the ability to support candidates with political speech and campaign funding seems particularly churlish.
I also strongly advocate that those donations be completely transparent. . . so that if the Mormons contribute to a defense of marriage campaign, gays know who to harass.
"People of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or some contrivance to raise prices." - Adam Smith, Wealth of NationsWhat else is a union but a bunch of "people of the same trade" who meet together explicitly for the purpose of conspiring against the public and contriving to raise prices?
Certainly double taxation should be eliminated, whether by eliminating the corporate income tax or making dividends and capital gains non-taxable — that is another issue. But equating juridical persons, which are human creations, with natural persons “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” as the American Founders put it is absurd. The right of a a corporation to engage in political speech is derivative from the human rights of its shareholders, not those of its management, as it is the shareholders’ resources that are being used, just as the right of a union to engage in political speech is derivative from the human rights of its members, not of those of the union organizers or bosses.
The board of directors REPRESENTS the shareholders in every other aspect of the business. A decision to open or close a factory can be made without calling for a general vote of all shareholders. Why shouldn’t the Board be entrusted with the decision whether to spend money on political speech as well ? We live in a Republic where our Representatives are routinely trusted to enact our political will. We trust the Board to evaluate the effect on the business of political policies. We don’t need to have a direct vote of all shareholders before the Board can act to support or protest public policy.
Why? First, there is adequate reason to be cynical about the notion that boards of directors actually represent the interest of shareholders even in business decisions, given the decoupling of executive compensation from shareholder value (and just as there is adequate reason to have similar cynicism about union bosses looking out for the interests of unionized workers).
Second, support of political candidates is not a business decision in the sense that the expenditure is an investment on which a return is expected — or if it is, there is corruption involved and both the board of directors making the expenditure and the candidate benefiting should be looking at fines and jail time.
One could argue there is a case for favoring a candidate whose position on something relevant to the business is favorable to the company’s position or business model, or opposing a candidate whose position is baleful to the same, even absent corruption, but even then it is not just a business decision: should the resources of the shareholders be used to support candidates whose other positions, not impacting the company’s business, are abhorrent to the majority of shareholders? (A real example: are the majority of GE shares really held by people who agree with Immelt’s left-leaning political agenda?) For the same reason unions’ political expenditures should be governed by members, not the organizers or officers: should a union local whose members are almost all pious Roman Catholics really be spending their dues supporting radically “pro-choice” candidates, even if the candidate in question supported the union’s position on a handful of economic matters?
Just as our “representatives” in Congress use their position chiefly to further the interests of Congressmen, union bosses use the dues of union members to further the interests of union bosses when engaging in political expenditures, and top management uses the resources of shareholders to further the interests of top management when engaging in political expenditures. Insisting on a bit of direct democracy for shareholders and union members in allowing juridical persons (corporations and unions) to exercise the natural rights of their members would be a good thing.
And, quite frankly, there are lots of business decisions that should be put to the vote of the shareholders, too, given the self-aggrandizing behavior of the managerial class.
I am the Executive Director of the only organization that works to protect and expand initiative, referendum and recall rights of all Americans so I strongly believe in the right to petition the government.
I am not sure what you are referencing with the tea party but, I don’t think it is right for unions or corporations to use individual’s money to support a candidate for political office without their consent or vote.
This is hardly a “cause” as you state, it is merely a discussion that I found interesting and think is missing from public discourse.
I completely agree! Unions and corporations should only be able to spend money to support a candidate or position with the support of its members or shareholders.
So corporations should be required to put political contributions up for a vote of the shareholders? Is the internal workings of a corporation really the bailiwick of the government?
Furthermore, putting up the respecting of rights to a vote negates the entire idea of rights, for what is a corporation but a group of individuals who band together with a common interest? If the people can vote that groups of individuals are banned from participation in the political process, then the idea of a right dissolves into a privilege granted by the government. Putting rights up to a vote gets perilously close to pure democracy, something our founders resoundingly rejected for good reason.
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