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Corporations have too much power in U.S., says PA lawyer

(Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Tom Linzey, guest essay on publicopiniononline.com, 10/06/03: You gotta hand it to the courts.

The recent ruling by a federal court -- that the First Amendment prevents elected lawmakers from stopping telemarketing corporations from invading peoples' homes and privacy -- simply points out what more and more folks have begun to understand.

Courts have granted corporations greater rights than people.

How did we get to this strange place --where corporations can use constitutional rights to deny people their rights?

Unfortunately, it's been going on for years. Over 150 years to be exact -- all starting when the folks who run corporations decided that the U.S. Constitution could be used to shield corporate activities from peoples' laws.

You see, early colonists in this country had upfront and personal knowledge of tyrannical multinational trading corporations -- like the East India Co. -- whose sole purpose was to vacuum natural resources out of colonies and deny the rights of people living in them.

Based on that understanding, the people of these United States vowed to keep corporations under tight control. Corporations were subordinated to governments -- which allowed corporations to exist only for a limited number of years, forbid corporations from owning other corporations, incorporated them for public purposes only, forced them to be specially chartered by state governments, and even limited the amount of capitalization they could possess.

Eliminating those constraints became a major drive of corporations over the last two centuries, and that drive included grabbing those constitutional rights -- like the First Amendment -- originally intended to protect people from concentrated corporate power.

What does all of that have to do with the "Do Not Call" list?


Clothed in the First Amendment, corporations -- mere creations of governments -- can now wield the Constitution to strike down people's laws, like the creation of the "Do Not Call" list. The impact of the conferral of the First Amendment by the courts upon corporations, of course, doesn't stop there -- the courts have even empowered corporations under the First Amendment to spend money to influence elections and referenda.

That empowering of corporations by the courts has entered almost every facet of political life. In 1996, the Supreme Court shielded corporations by preventing Vermonters from labeling milk containing an artificial growth hormone manufactured by the Monsanto Corp. In 1978, the Supreme Court shielded corporations by preventing Massachusetts residents from banning corporations from spending money to influence referenda. In 1980, the Supreme Court prevented New Yorkers from enforcing a state law -- adopted during the 1970s energy crisis -- that prohibited utility corporations from promoting the use of electricity.

All in the name of our First Amendment.

And it's not just the conferral by courts of corporate First Amendment "rights" either. Courts have "found" corporations in the Fourth Amendment -- protecting corporations from agency inspections -- and in the Fifth Amendment -- protecting them from laws specifically focused on restricting corporate activities.

Courts have even held outright that corporations are "persons" under the law, and that they are protected by the same Constitutional protections intended only for people.

It's not a new story after all.

People's constitutional rights have long been used as both a "sword and a shield" by corporations, as Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once declared, to strike down people's laws and enable a relative handful of corporate managers to do the real governing in our land.

Thus, we have a corporate minority stopping the public majority from governing.

Which all contradicts the widely embraced theory of this country -- that the public interest of the majority governs the private interests of a few. If governments are created by people to protect the rights of people, then under what authority do the courts empower corporations to deny people's rights?

What could be further from this country's theory of governance? What could be further from the ideal of democracy?


Thomas Linzey is a resident of Chambersburg, PA.

Source: http://www.publicopiniononline.com/news/stories/20031006/opinion/400819.html