Text and History Narratives

A Capitalist Joker: The Strange Origins, Disturbing Past and Uncertain Future of Corporate Personhood in American Law

A Capitalist Joker builds on the scholarly research discussed in CAC’s amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. The narrative examines a key issue that the Court addressed in the case: whether corporations have the same rights as individuals, particularly when it comes to influencing electoral politics.

Summary

On March 10, 2010, CAC released the third narrative in its Text and History Narrative Series at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. Entitled A Capitalist Joker: The Strange Origins, Disturbing Past and Uncertain Future of Corporate Personhood in American Law, the narrative builds on the scholarly research discussed in CAC’s amicus curiae brief in Citizens United v. FEC. The narrative examines a key issue that the Court addressed in the case: whether corporations have the same rights as individuals, particularly when it comes to influencing electoral politics.

As the Joker explains, the text of our Constitution never mentions corporations. The framers wrote and the American people ratified the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the three Civil War amendments — the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth — to secure the inalienable rights of “We the People” — living human beings. Governments create corporations and give them special privileges to fuel economic growth, but with these special privileges come greater government oversight. The new narrative traces the Supreme Court’s treatment of corporations from the Founding era Supreme Court under John Marshall, through the Lochner era, the New Deal, and up through the Roberts Court today.  It shows that while corporations have long enjoyed some protections under certain constitutional provisions, they have only been granted equal constitutional rights once – in a series of opinions in the infamous Lochner era.  Today, those opinions have been repudiated by liberals and conservatives alike and have been dismissed by the Supreme Court as a “relic of a bygone era.”

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