April 1, 2018

Bookshelf: How corporations won the civil rights of real people

Jonathan A Knee, NY Times - From pre-Revolutionary times to now, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights” charts the strategies and philosophical battles that have now earned state-created corporate entities much the same civil rights as individual citizens. Professor Winkler argues that this has occurred because corporate rights “have largely been won in the courts, not in the streets, and have developed largely without much public scrutiny.”

Recent Supreme Court decisions in the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby cases have brought the apparent triumph of corporate rights to the forefront of the national consciousness. But the nature of the role of corporations in United States history is poorly appreciated, often undermining the quality of the resulting debate.

Given the absence of any mention in the Constitution of corporations or, with the exception of the First Amendment’s reference to “the press,” businesses of any kind, the ability of these “artificial persons” to secure many of the same rights as real people is a little shocking. The corporate rights movement achieved this result by following many of the same tactics as the more familiar modern African-American civil rights movement, using test cases and civil disobedience. More broadly, the biggest differences between the corporate and individual civil rights movement is the relentlessness and rate of success of corporate litigants.

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