How to Strip Corporations of Constitutional Rights

Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune, Cagle CartoonsCorporations aren't people. If that were so, Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Tumblr would be a violation of the Constitution, which states that people are human beings with inherent rights, not commodities to be bought and sold. Even so, corporations are using this undue influence to buy our election process and even supersede all regulatory laws across international borders, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership aims to do. The Move to Amend coalition is fighting to change that.

"This isn't just about elections," said David Cobb, a Move to Amend co-founder and the Green Party's 2004 candidate for president. "This is about getting people to have power over corporations, instead of the other way around."

The concept of corporate personhood goes all the back to 1886, in the Supreme Court's ruling of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case. Chief Justice Morrison Waite ruled that the corporations protesting taxes levied on them by Santa Clara County and the state of California had the same constitutional rights as people under the 14th Amendment. Before that, corporations began simply as a creation of the state, which had a charter to carry out and were dissolved immediately after the completion of the particular project outlined in their charter. Since the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, corporations have now been given the same free speech rights as people, and the billions in their treasury is equivalent to political speech.

Move to Amend has since introduced the We The People amendment, which states that corporations do not have constitutional rights, and that corporate money is not political speech. The bill, House Joint Resolution 29, was officially introduced by Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-MN) Over 288,000 people have signed the official petition to add the We The People amendment to the constitution, and state legislatures and city councils across the country have voted in support of a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal corporate personhood rights and money as speech. You can view a map of Move to Amend resolution progress here.

Citizens are also using hyper-local initiatives to repeal corporations of their rights. Sugar Hill, a small New Hampshire town of just 600 people, passed a local anti-corporate personhood ordinance. Their goal was to ban corporations of all constitutional rights to stop the Northern Pass, a destructive power line proposal that would destroy protected land. There's a growing movement led by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) getting small towns to strip corporate rights to halt environmentally harmful corporate rackets. Corporations could respond by taking each separate case to the state courts to overturn the local ordinances, but if enough small towns passed similar ordinances, they would win in a war of attrition with corporations unwilling to unload their money into costly legal battles with municipalities across the country.

The corporate virus has thoroughly infected our state and local governments, and it will take a long-term battle waged by the people in their own communities to win. But with enough willpower, we can strip these corporate "persons" of constitutional rights that only belong to living, breathing, mortal human beings, protect our communities, and control our own destinies. It's up to us to take that power back. Sign Move to Amend's call for a constitutional amendment and go to CELDF's website to learn more about how to stop corporate environmental destruction in your own community.

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