Debating Corporate Personhood Constitutional Amendment

Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, with the same right to influence politics as voters. I have to admit, this never made sense to me (actually, it seems ludicrous, but that’s just me, or perhaps it’s you, too?). Now corporations are challenging new laws, saying, as in one example, that some laws “force” them to speak against their will.

Democracy Now, with hosts Amy Goodman and Juan González, host a debate on the movement to draft a constitutional amendment to overturn the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights with two guests: Ron Fein, legal director of the organization Free Speech for People, which backs a constitutional amendment to overturn the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights, and Kent Greenfield, professor of law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School. He recently wrote a piece for The Washington Monthly called “Let Us Now Praise Corporate Persons.”

Watch the video of the debate:

http://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/ipod/dn2015-0313.mp4

Or you can read the full transcript at www.democracynow.org.

Ron Fein: “There are two constitutional amendments that we at FreeSpeechForPeople.org and other allies in the field are promoting. One is called the Democracy for All Amendment, and that would overturn the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions. So that would enable local, state and federal government to set limits on spending money and raising money to influence elections. The other constitutional amendment that we’re promoting is called the People’s Rights Amendment, and that would clarify that the rights in the Constitution are rights of natural persons, not corporations.

“What our amendment would do is it would force the courts to do a two-step analysis. The first step would be to say, “Who are the actual people who are being affected by this law, and do they have a constitutional right at issue here?” The second step would be to say, “Do those people have a constitutional right to use the corporate tool to exercise that right?” And so, what that would mean is that we would have to look behind the corporate form to say, “Are there actual people here whose rights are actually being violated?” And that would change the entire discourse that we’ve been having.

“Every state of the union has some provision for revoking corporate charters. And these powers belong usually to the attorney general of the state. They’re not often used nowadays. But at FreeSpeechForPeople.org, we are very shortly going to have on our website a model corporate charter revocation law that would provide that when a corporation has committed repeated multiple felonies within a short period of time, then its corporate charter can and should be revoked.”

Kent Greenfield: “I agree that corporate accountability is a problem, that corporate power is a problem, that there’s often a tension between human rights and corporate rights. And I’ve spent my career trying to craft solutions to that problem within corporate governance. And I think that’s where progressive efforts should be aimed, not toward constitutional right—constitutional amendments, which in the end would do little to address the real problems. I think the real problems come from the fact that corporations are managed and structured to further the interests of the managerial and financial elite. And how to make corporations more accountable, more attuned to issues of human rights and the like, is to make corporations themselves more democratic, to make the corporate governance, to make boards of directors attuned to interests of all stakeholders, to interests of society. I think I would put employees on the boards of directors of companies. And this is something that works in Europe.

“Ron Fein and others, with whom I’ve worked for a long time, all recognize that the core problem here is corporate power. We simply disagree about how to address it. I think to go at the—to the heart of how corporations are managed is the real remedy.

Are you for or against a corporate personhood constitutional amendment?

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