Corporate personhood debate

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The corporate personhood debate refers to the controversy (primarily in the United States) over the question of what subset of rights afforded under the law to natural persons should also be afforded to corporations as legal persons.

In the United States, corporations were recognized as having rights to contract, and to have those contracts honored the same as contracts entered into by natural persons, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, decided in 1819. In the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394, the Supreme Court recognized that corporations were recognized as persons for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1][2] Some critics of corporate personhood, however, most notably author Thom Hartmann in his book "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," claim that this was an intentional misinterpretation of the case inserted into the Court record by reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis.[3] Bancroft Davis had previously served as president of Newburgh and New York Railway Co.

Proponents of corporate personhood believe that corporations, as associations of shareholders, were intended by the founders and framers to enjoy many, if not all, of the same rights as would the shareholders acting individually, such as the right to lobby the government, the right to due process and compensation before being deprived of property, and the right, as legal entities, to speak freely. All of these rights have been upheld by the U.S. courts.

Contents

Controversies about corporate personhood

As a matter of interpretation of the word "person" in the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. courts have extended certain constitutional protections to corporations. Opponents of corporate personhood seek to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit these rights to those provided by state law and state constitutions.[4]

Others argue that corporations should have the protection of the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that they are organizations of people, and that these people shouldn't be deprived of their human rights when they join with others to act collectively.[5] In this view, treating corporations as "persons" is a convenient legal fiction that allows corporations to sue and to be sued, that provides a single entity for easier taxation and regulation, that simplified complex transactions that would otherwise involve, in the case of large corporations, thousands of people, and that protects the rights of the shareholders, including the right of association.

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