Literally speaking corporations aren’t people. Literally speaking corporations are legal authorizations recognizing multiple people as a single person under the law. So, in a legal sense Wal-Mart is a person, a legal person, not a literal person. But figuratively speaking corporations are people in that they represent many individuals. A larger corporation could have more than a thousand people represented. Sticking with Wal-Mart, they have 1,826 “Institutional owners”. Institutional ownership is talking about large financial organizations that have a stake. Each of those organizations have their own holders. When it comes down to it Wal-Mart represents, legally speaking, many 100’s of 1000’s of individuals in some degree or the other. In that sense corporations very much are people.
The author of this piece writes, “Somewhat unintuitively, American corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. ” Given the above I don’t feel it’s at all unintuitive. The people who have a stake in a corporation have individual rights and can on their own exercise them. In as much as a corporation represents them, legally and financially, it stands to reason someone from that corporation can speak his or her mind and stand by the ethical and moral desires of the majority of holders.
Take the Hobby Lobby case for example. Justice Ginsburg was a dissenting vote in that case. She wrote, “…the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities…” to explain why Hobby Lobby, a corporation fitting my above definition, could not have religious rights. What Ginsburg seems to miss in her statement is the fact that a church is itself an artificial entity. Certainly she wouldn’t’ argue that a church didn’t have religious rights?
Imagine, you and your neighbors are unhappy about a store that was going to open up in your neighborhood, say an all-nude strip club, and you all went down to city hall at the council meeting, you all signed a petition and elected Bob, everyone’s favorite neighbor, to speak on your behalf. Bob represents all of you, not just himself. That doesn’t make Bob less of a person by virtue of his acting on behalf of others.
While it is true that corporations can wield political power by virtue of their spending prowess and ability to alter the economy of a district it is also true that they represent lots of individuals too. Not only share holders, but employees and customers. It’s only right that a business, be it a mom and pop store, or a corporation, should have a voice.
It is the fault of the member of Congress if they give that voice more weight than it should have because of a financial contribution to their campaign.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court’s majority in the above mentioned case, said protecting the religious rights of corporations, “protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”
It is those people that we speak of when we say corporations are people and not just the legal concept of an artificial person. There are real people behind that corporate logo.
Source of inspiration:
The head lawyer representing Southern Pacific was a man named Roscoe Conkling. A leader of the Republican Party for more than a decade, Conkling had even been nominated to the Supreme Court twice. He begged off both times, the second time after the Senate had confirmed him. (He remains the last person to turn down a Supreme Court seat after winning confirmation). More than most lawyers, Conkling was seen by the justices as a peer.