Some left-liberal outfit is now pushing something called the Peoples Rights Amendment
Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.
Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.
It is, of course, yet another left-liberal hissy fit induced by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. In addition to the usual suspects on the far left, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has come out in favor of it.
“I think one of the presenters [at a Democratic forum on amending the Constitution] yesterday said that the Supreme Court had unleashed a predator that was oozing slime into the political system, and that, indeed, is not an exaggeration,” said Pelosi.
(Jeez, these folks are so worked up, you'd think the Supreme Court had authorized killing unborn babies or something.)
Here at PB.com, we've been covering the debate over corporate personhood for a while now. To repeat:
For most purposes the corporation is treated as though it were a legal person, having most of the rights and obligations of real people, and having an identity wholly apart from its constituents. Corporate law statutes, for example, typically give a corporation “the same powers as an individual to do all things necessary or convenient to carry out its business and affairs.”
Although the corporation’s legal personality obviously is a fiction, it is a very useful one. Consider a large forestry company, owning forest land in many states. If the corporation is not a legal person with the power to own land, who owns the land? Presumably the shareholders of the company. If the company were therefore required to list all of its shareholder on every deed recorded in every county in which it owned property, and also had to amend those filings every time a shareholder sold stock, there would be an intolerable burden not only on the firm but also on government agencies that deal with the firm. But did anybody in Boulder or Madison pause to consider that undesirable outcome of their proposal?
An even more useful feature of the corporation’s legal personality, however, is that it allows partitioning of business assets from the personal assets of shareholders, managers, and other corporate constituents. This partitioning has two important aspects. On the one hand, asset partitioning creates a distinct pool of assets belonging to the firm on which the firm’s creditors have a claim that is prior to the claims of personal creditors of the corporation’s constituencies. By eliminating the risk that the firm will be affected by the financial difficulties of its constituencies, asset partitioning reduces the risks borne by creditors and thus enables the firm to raise capital at a lower cost. On the other hand, asset partitioning also protects the personal assets of the corporation’s constituencies from the vicissitudes of corporate life. The doctrine of limited liability means that creditors of the firm may not reach the personal assets of shareholders or other corporate constituents. Just how do the brilliant legal minds behind this movement propose to preserve this feature of corporate personhood if they succeed?
The trouble, of course, is that the folks behind this movement are worked up about the Citizens United decision. As Movetoamend.org's website states, their goal is to establish the principle that "human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights."
Note that what they're doing is kind of clever. Unions were also freed by Citizens United to make independent political expenditures. Unions, however, are uniformly organized as unincorporated voluntary associations. The corporate peronhood proposal thus would leave unions unaffected. Which means a main source of the left's financing would remain free to spend on campaigns and political ads.
On the other hand, what they're doing is mostly stupid. Lots of pillars of the liberal political movement are limited liability entities with the status of legal persons. The NY Times is run by a corporation. Daily Kos is owned by a LLC. The Washington Post is a corporation. Moveon.org is a (nonprofit corporation). And so on. If the goal of preclude corporations from having constitutional rights by denying them the status of legal persons were to succeed both politically and legally, all of these liberal stalwarts would lose -- among other things -- the First Amendment rights they presently enjoy.
In a recent post, my friend and colleague Eugene Volokh makes much the same point in his usual erudite way:
So just as Congress could therefore ban the speech of nonmedia business corporations, it could ban publications by corporate-run newspapers and magazines — which I think includes nearly all such newspapers and magazines in the country (and for good reason, since organizing a major publications as a partnership or sole proprietorship would make it much harder for it to get investors and to operate). Nor does this proposal leave room for the possibility, in my view dubious, that the Free Press Clause would protect newspapers organized by corporations but not other corporations that want to use mass communications technology. Section 3 makes clear that the preservation of the “freedom of the press” applies only to “the people,” and section 2 expressly provides that corporations aren’t protected as “the people.”
Congress could also ban the speech and religious practice of most churches, which are generally organized as corporation. It could ban the speech of nonprofit organizations that are organized as corporations. (Congressman McGovern confirms this: “My ‘People’s Rights Amendment’ is simple and straightforward. It would make clear that all corporate entities — for-profit and non-profit alike — are not people with constitutional rights. It treats all corporations, including incorporated unions and non-profits, in the same way: as artificial creatures of the state that we the people govern, not the other way around.”) Congress could ban speech about elections and any other speech, whether about religion, politics, or anything else. It could also ban speech in viewpoint-based ways.
State legislatures and local governments could do the same. All of them could seize corporate property without providing compensation, and without providing due process. All corporate entities would be stripped of all constitutional rights. Quite a proposal ....
So there you have it. Liberals hate Citizens United so much they're willing to gut the First Amendment in order to undo it. Pity they can't summon up a fraction of that passion for, say, the unborn.