Paul Cienfuegos’ October 20th, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
Beginning last week, and continuing for a few more weeks, I am using my weekly commentary to unveil the fascinating story and chronology of how the Supreme Court – over the past 196 years – has transformed the business corporation from an institution that was legally subordinate to The People, beginning after the American Revolution, into something having more constitutionally protected so-called “rights” than do you or I. Shall we proceed?
In 1803, the US Supreme Court did a very gutsy thing. In the court case Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court decided that they were in fact supreme – no longer one of three equal pillars of government. The justices gave themselves the power to make law, and to declare existing laws as unconstitutional, neither of which had ever been the intent of the nation’s founders. This case established the concept of “judicial review”. Congress could have challenged the court’s action, but chose not to. Then-president Thomas Jefferson was so outraged by this seizure of governing authority by the highest court in the land, that he stated, “The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.” Once the Supreme Court could overrule the other branches of government, any real notion of authentic representative democracy began to fray. Not to mention that in the early 1800’s, only white propertied men had the status of legal persons, so 99% of us couldn’t even participate if we had wanted to.
In 1819, in the case Dartmouth College v. Woodward, the Supreme Court overruled the New Hampshire court, which had defended the New Hampshire legislature’s authority to amend Dartmouth College’s corporate charter – its defining document – to require it to admit all of the qualified young white men who wished to enroll, not just the white male children of elite families. This decision turned a corporate charter from a government granted privilege into a contract that could not be unilaterally altered by government. In our work to dismantle corporate so-called “rights”, we say that this is the first case where the court “found” corporate “rights” in the US Constitution – specifically in the Contracts Clause of the Constitution. This ruling gave the corporation a constitutional life for the very first time in US history – 196 years ago. In other words, we are today just four years away from the 200th anniversary of corporations winning access to the Constitution of the United States, which in my opinion has been an absolute catastrophe for the rest of us.
In the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision of 1857, the Supreme Court decided that slaves are property and Congress cannot deprive citizens of their property. Slaves are “not citizens of any state” and “have no rights a court must respect.”
Eleven years later, in 1868, the 14th Amendment was adopted. Black males were now US citizens: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Just 18 years later, the court would conclude that the word “person” also included corporations.
In 1874, in the case Minor v. Happersett, the women’s movement argued that under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, the US Constitution established that their right to vote could not be denied by the state. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, stating that the 14th Amendment was only intended to apply to black males.
Here’s some background on this 1874 women’s rights court battle…..
Susan B. Anthony went to the polls and cast a vote in 1872, justifying her right to vote under the 14th Amendment. She was found guilty in a lower court, and it never went to the Supreme Court. In Bradwell v. Illinois (1873) a married woman sued under the 14th Amendment to practice law. She was denied and the opinion of Justice Bradley is a particularly strong explanation of how a
woman’s personhood comes from her husband. In Commonwealth v. Welosky (1931) the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that women cannot sit on juries, and explained “to the effect that the word ‘person’ in construing statutes shall include corporations … it has also been held not to include women.” Women were finally protected under the 14th Amendment in 1971 in Reed v. Reed. In other words, the business corporation was granted 14th amendment personhood status 85 years before women won the same constitutional protections! Is that crazy or what?!
I’ve been sharing with you an unveiling of the fascinating chronology of how the US Supreme Court – over the past 196 years – has transformed the business corporation from an institution that was legally subordinate to The People, beginning after the American Revolution, into something having more constitutionally protected so-called “rights” than do you or I. We’ll continue with this timeline for another few weeks.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can sign up for my twice monthly Updates at PaulCienfuegos.com. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!