Saturday, January 30, 2010

Patricia Williams on Citizens United and Corporate Personhood

Professor Patricia J Williams, author of the groundbreaking essay "On Being the Object of Property," has a few things to say about corporations as persons in Citizens United v. FEC.

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In a column forthcoming in The Nation, she provides this historical and nonconstitutional perspective:

In 1935 the great legal realist philosopher Felix S. Cohen wrote a wonderfully illuminating article called "Transcendental Nonsense," in which he debunked (at least for that generation) the notion of corporations as persons. Cohen challenged the reasoning of the Court of Appeals of New York when it asked "Where is the corporation?" in a decision about the proper venue for a suit lodged in the State of New York against the Susquehanna Coal Company, a Pennsylvania corporation. "Nobody has ever seen a corporation," Cohen pointed out. "What right have we to believe in corporations if we don't believe in angels? To be sure, some of us have seen corporate funds, corporate transactions, etc. (just as some of us have seen angelic deeds, angelic countenances, etc.). But this does not give us the right...to assume that it travels about from State to State as mortal men travel."  Cohen denounced such thinking as essentially "supernatural."

More commentary on the opinion is collected here.

RR

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2010/01/patricia-williams-on-citizens-united-and-corporate-personhood.html

Cases and Case Materials, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation | Permalink

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Comments

That is of course the U.S. Supreme Court, making, big business friendly ‘law’.
We have learned worldwide that ‘big’ business’ is not the citizen’s friend and with their mindless greed they are also their own enemies.
But the Supreme Court is stuck in the ‘’old boys club’’, take care of business and they will take care of the citizens.
The Federal Courts across the U.S. are not keepers of the word of current law that ‘word’ is for marble blocks only.
It is time the citizens hold their courts to the word of current law. And I have no idea how the citizens can implement that.
And in terms of an individual’s voice in Government, I would not only modulate the voice of ‘big’ business but any citizen that for whatever reason has a disproportionate volume.
carol

Posted by: carol budro | Jan 31, 2010 7:39:58 AM

The Free Speech Clause does not reference "persons" at all, so the frequency of this point being made is bizarre. The Fourteenth Amendment incorporating the Free Speech Clause against the states would involve determining the meaning of "person," but the law in Citizens United was a federal one, so it isn't relevant. The Free Speech Clause just makes a blanket ban on Congress abridging the freedom of speech. This protects readers and listeners of speech as well as the speakers; and the listeners and readers of corporate advertisements are certainly "persons." Most book publishers are corporations, but that doesn't mean Congress could ban publishing certain books just because corporations are not "persons."

Posted by: Ron | Mar 3, 2010 9:11:17 PM

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