In their Citizens United ruling, The Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same right to free expression as people…and equated spending unlimited amounts of money in politics, unmatchable by 99.5% of people, with “free” expression.

This was an affirmation and expansion of personhood for corporations that had been previously established. The original reasoning was, in order for corporations to protect their business and property in courts, they needed to have have legal standing under the Constitution and other established law. As only people were entitled to protections and rights, a determination was made that a corporation, as an association of people, should have the same rights as each member of that association.

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.

So, corporate personhood began with their receiving rights under the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law, even though it was clearly intended to apply to African Americans in response to their slavery.

This created a slippery slope, allowing corporations to campaign for more and more Constitutional rights to which only people are entitled. Now, the SCOTUS has insisted that they are fully entitled to 1st Amendment rights. It has gone so far as to corporations trying to claim 5th Amendment rights so they don’t have to hand over incriminating evidence.

This is an intrinsically flawed proposition. To begin with the most obvious reason, a corporation is not a human being. It is a legal arrangement between one or more human beings for conducting business.

Is a legal arrangement that associates human beings, entitled to the same protections as those human beings? As of now, corporations can’t vote but shouldn’t they have that right if they have the same rights as any other individual citizen of the United States? Should they have the right to 5th Amendment protections?

Until or unless we get a different balance in the Supreme Court, corporate personhood is unlikely to change.

So, let’s consider coming at this from a different direction. If corporations are people and people die, can corporations die? Can they be killed? Can they even be murdered?

First, let’s accept the proposition that a corporation is a person. Now, if another corporation were to take business or financial steps that liquidated another corporation, couldn’t it be said that one corporate “person” was killed by another corporate “person”? The SCOTUS has said that an association of people entitled to the same Constitutional rights of those people. Accordingly, shouldn’t a corporation be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And if one person takes the life of another person, that is murder.

If corporations want the rights of people, the same laws that apply to people should apply to them.


a. Corporations are viewed as and treated under the law as people.


b. People who intentionally end the existence of other people are guilty of murder.



c. Corporations that have intentionally caused the demise of other corporations are guilty of murder.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. So, each and every corporation that has ever been responsible for or an accessory to the death of another corporation should then be prosecuted for murder. Those corporations found guilty should receive the death penalty and be terminated.

Yes, this is a bit tongue in cheek but such a campaign might be juicy enough to call attention to the absurdity of corporate personhood and the need to dismantle it.

On the other hand, perhaps it should be taken a bit seriously when we regard corporations that have intentionally or through neglect, caused the deaths of real human beings. Maybe there does need to be some type of personhood law for corporations in which they would forfeit their “life” if they cause the deaths of people.

Maybe there should also be a form of incarceration for breaking other laws that would put real people in jail. Perhaps a freezing of their assets and business operations for the period of their sentence, just as would essentially happen to human beings convicted of serious crimes.

I’ve always liked the concept of judo as an approach when at a disadvantage with a more powerful opponent. When an opponent outweighs you, use their weight against them.

If corporations want personhood, let’s give them full personhood, including all of the identical criminal penalties that apply to people.

One might at first recoil at the concept of giving in on personhood for corporations but considering how difficult if not impossible it appears to reverse it, this may be a more effective approach to reigning them in. And how many corporations could survive as the ruthless and brutal entities they currently are if subject to the same laws and punishments which apply to real people?

If corporations were no longer permitted to be both people and sociopaths, how much better off might our society be?

So, I say give them the whole enchilada of personhood…and I think if that happened, they would do everything in their power to be stripped of it ASAP.

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2gardenDbosBuddy McCuejjgravitasBlueStateMan Recent comment authors
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This is an hour long and it will explain as to why things are in this day and age.


Plain and simple citizens united is the birth mother of American fascism.


This is not as outlandish as it first seems, considering current events. If we were to employ the concept of full personhood for corporations including punishment for crimes committed by corporations, we should then apply the same rules to other organizations, such as terrorist organizations and religious organizations, which have been responsible for so much suffering in the world. How about holding the corporations that make up the oil industry financially responsible for all the damage that has been and will be caused by global warming (such as the destruction of our coastlines and damage to the fishing industry)? Nope. Not so outlandish.


Let’s take it a step further… the REAL deaths of REAL people due to corporate nonfeasance.


They all can go to prison for bribing these judges & inspectors.. filing false safety reports & committing fraud.. but, as we now know.. those should be the least of their problems…

They, and the rest of the Board of Directors.. & ALL of their stockholder / investors are criminally culpable for the deaths of 29 miners… human beings that perished due to Masseys reckless disregard for their safety, their depraved indifference in factoring in the “cost” of adhering to the law & the safety regulations against the lives of these people..

Third Degree Murder… plain & simple… & now… that their “corporation” is deemed a “person”… then the “corporation”.. INCLUDING all of it’s investors and stockholders can take personal responsibility for the results of their actions… a little stint behind bars as well.

They can’t have it both ways.

At the congressional hearing in February, Rep. George Miller (D) angrily declared that “delays from growing appeals are undermining MSHA’s ability to impose tougher sanctions on the repeat violators. If cases are stuck for months or years in the review commission, MSHA cannot impose stronger penalties on the worst mine operators. As a result, miners’ lives are in the cross hairs.”

But the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, defended the companies, arguing that “it appears mine operators are simply adapting to a punitive new regulatory environment that favors litigation & conflict over collaboration.”

“Collaboration”?? While trying to bust the Unions????

He expressed his view that “Legislation & regulation may actually be the cause rather than the solution to the problem.”

Let’s talk BP while we’re at it…

Their “man on the scene” directly, their Executives & their Boardroom & their stockholders should be held equally responsible as accessories.

Also Halliburton, who used substandard materials.

The people who perished on that platform were murdered, plain & simple. Eleven Human Beings sacrificed. Men whose trust was betrayed by an aloof, avaricious, cynical company & by a depraved sociopathic “supervisor”.

The BP representative on the platform was specifically warned that if he went ahead with his insistence to speed up the drilling that it would fracture the geological subsurface. He was warned that he would be endangering the lives of the crew, & he deliberately chose to ignore the experts who were the most knowledgeable, those charged with the responsibility of seeing to all of their safety, & this steaming pile of shit went ahead anyway, solely in the pursuit of the bottom line.

3rd degree murder can be described as..

“Any person who even unintentionally causes the death of another person can be charged with murder under the “depraved-heart” theory, which refers to a killing that results from gross negligence.”

There it is in a nutshell, folks, the GOP mindset in all of it’s putrescence.

The cronies in the Bush Administration like Gail Norton (his “Secretary of Interior” who worked for BIG OIL) or Elaine Chao (his “Secretary of ‘Labor'” who was rabidly anti-union & even campaigned against stricter regulations for workplace safety).

These tragedies are a direct result of the malicious malfeasance of that Administration, deliberately refusing to enforce the law & not only should those running Massey, BP & Halliburton as well as their subsidiaries be indicted, but their enablers in government as well.


The horrors perpetrated on working people are legion. Holding employers culpable is a common law reality. Save for “acts of God” such as ships capsizing in a storm, our laws held people liable for their acts, rich or poor, until Lockean notions of individualism got perverted into laws reflecting the superiority of some against the inferiority of others.

We are back to the late 19th century notions of deserving rich and undeserving poor. That is the goal of the religious right and their GOP sycophants. They do NOT want a society in which the rich actually have to pay for killing off working people.

Fodder. Fungible commodities. Calculus. Not human beings. That’s what “labor” is – something to be pencilled in and erased out as the company sees fit. Human tragedies? Who cares? Too bad but suck it up.

The RW Christians believe working people are made by God to be subservient to capital and the ruling class and that standing for your rights – decent pay, safe conditions, etc. – is violating “God’s laws”. I can tell you clearly – the Bible says precisely the opposite, but since when did THAT stop these idiots?

The tide is turning, and we need to keep the drumbeat going. It’s critical to encourage people to stand for justice and for their own freedom from want, exploitation, fear, and even death at the hands of business owners who don’t give a damn. The law HAS to support justice in the workplace, not just the public square. It’s past time for us to make capital accountable for its collective and individual managerial actions. Money does NOT matter more than people.

Buddy McCue

choicelady – Great comment!


An absolutely wonderful idea AdLib, and of course it also makes perfect sense. I would love to see this take off, and even if your SCOTUS can’t be adequately held responsible, or even challenged, at least it would give more people a chance to understand the absurdity of this ruling in the first place. This idea and this post should certainly be relentlessly pushed, as I said, it makes perfect sense, which in turn may be its only problem for some.


Hi Adlib,
Great post. It would be interesting if someone were to actually challenge the Supreme Court ruling in the way you mention. Not necessarily a murder charge, but even lesser crimes like vandalism, indecent exposure, etc. – it would be funny to see a slew of lawsuits thrown at them from the perspective of them as people. Like you point out, they may just end up wanting to give their “personhood” back.


AdLib; Besides all the comments, I wish serious remedies” could be conferred. Job descriptions clearly spell out who has decision making authority and responsibility for actions. It’s why they are paid more. If we can provide a death penalty for anything, then we should consider it for responsible executives.


AdLIb; I agree. It’s not reasonable to have rights conferred without responsibility. We all have rights–well, no we don’t and haven’t and we’ve had to fight for rights of equality a lot harder than corporations had to fight for theirs. And we are still short of full rights for a lot of people.

Perhaps we need “pseudo-human” laws to balance the scales of rights and responsibilities. Or perhaps we need to redefine what “harm” is. Smoking certain substances can put you in jail but taking away someones retirement has no consequence–even Enron who as a human entity knowingly played essentially a Madoff game. (Jeff Skilling has suffered but…). The tobacco companies, the drug companies, the oil, coal: where does one stop?

Perhaps we should demand of the SCOTUS that they rescind this ruling until everyone has equal rights. Corps can’t buy free speech until women are paid fairly or until GLBT community can enter into legal marriages.

The SCOTUS ruling is highly provocative and takes us in the wrong direction but money has always had it’s voice long before this. AdLib, what I worry about is this: that it’s very cheap to play on the fear of uneducated people; it’s easy to bait historical divisions. Lying is cheap. The news cycle is undemanding and accelerates misinformation. The fact that State Supreme Courts are being stacked so that illegal legislation can go unchallenged. The fact that Michigan has Emergency Manager to dismiss elected officials and agreed upon contracts. These scare me as much as corporate money. But yes, I’m pissed as hell. I just don’t know where to start anymore. Thanks for a great article BTW


AdLib, of course, what you propose is the logical extension of personhood. But it is equally true that that granting corporations personhood negates that reason for incorporation in the first place: to PREVENT any individual in that group from facing criminal prosecution from the actions of the corporation they are part of. So they get benefits both ways.

That aside, the entire personhood ruling is so flawed and immoral from the get-go. If the Court wanted to grant the same Constitutional rights to the members of a group that individuals have, then all groups of people should be granted the same rights–groups like churches, or the KKK, or school boards, and unions and PACs and every professional association. And those rights to those groups are not even part of the slippery slope that you write about–they must be granted immediately, for if the SCOTUS wants to protect the rights of individuals as part of a group, it stands to reason that ANY AND ALL groups must have personhood rights.

You are completely right that in granting those rights, they must also be made accountable for all the responsibilities of individuals too. There is absolutely no logical or ethical reason why they should only be granted rights without any responsibility and someone–the ACLU, or any other group –should find a way to test this in the courts.

This whole issue reminds me of Talmudic twisting and gnarling. There is a principle in Talmudic law, called “putting a fence around the law,” which states that a religious law must be so protected that there needs to be more laws ensuring that the original law will be adhered to. Example: “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” is the original biblicallaw. Sounds compassionate and humane–it would be heartbreaking for an animal to provide life-giving milk only to have the recipient of that milk cooked in it.So to make sure that law was followed, we now cannot eat any milk with any meat together–even cows’ milk with lamb, or even chicken! Further, the dishes we use to eat meat can’t be the same dishes we use for dairy.

If the SCOTUS thinks the principle of individual Constitutional rights is so worthy of protection, they need to “put a fence around it.” instead they have gone in the exact opposite direction of actually protecting those rights. What they should have done is rule that NO group of even two people can have any of the rights that individuals can. I fact, incorporating or joining any group would make that group more subject to search and seizure, and no Miranda rights, etc. because the very power of a group makes them ipso facto less in need of protection than an individual and on more equal footing with the power of the State. Once a corporation has as much, if not MORE, power than the State, they have no need for protection.

But of course, this was never about protecting the rights of people at all; it was ONLY about giving outrageous rights to money and to corporations. Period.


Cher, I should have read the comments first, but it is so provocative that I started writing on the spot. I think we need to guard our country very closely now, if in fact we can.


“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the Bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe.. corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed.”
~Abraham Lincoln

“All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise not from defects in the Constitution or Confederation, not from a want of honor or virtue so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.”
–John Adams

Call me crazy but, I don’t think they wanted corporations to have the rights they seem to think they’re entitled. Should have figured it out though. Any rich people invoking our nation’s finest leaders are most likely severely misrepresenting them.


In the Beginning…

There were almost NO corporations until the 19th century. Most businesses were partnerships, even of more than just one or two people. I have had the dubious pleasure of reading early – very early – incorporation documents and their justifications for existence in Massachusetts.

In the beginning, the corporations promised they would SERVE THE COMMUNITIY in which they originated. They would bring jobs, prosperity, and abundance. And initially their formal incorporation statuses were of very limited duration to prove their fitness and to test their honor to those standards. Yes, folks – accountability mattered. Corporations derived from “tenants in common” each member of which was liable for the acts of the whole or even other individuals. It was a very long time before the corporation was perceived as an entity outside the volition of its members. Liability rules were slow to develop that provided immunity or conferred powers separate and distinct from the individual acts of corporate members. The acts of one were implications on the whole. Mosumoi v. Rogers, Barnstable, MA Supreme Judicial Court, 1804.

(Why DOES choicelady know this, one asks. I own a set of early MA law books, 1802-1840. Comes in VERY handy now and then…)

Since the geeks on the SCOTUS today all tend to be impacted by the Federalist Society interpretation of laws, the view of which is very bent toward property and elites, I say it’s imperative we know what the laws WERE at that time. The Federalists were NOT in ascendance in those days – the law still protected the underdog more than private accumulation and wealth. So if you’re looking for original intent, you also need to look at state laws and the limits on the power of wealth that existed then. In New England (I know no other laws in the Mid-Atlantic and South) 1802 was a watershed year – it was the year that much of this began to change. But that was nearly TWO DECADES after the Constitution, and not every state changed the same, and it took another nerly 50 years before significant changes to corporate law began to give them autonomous power.

Corporations did not flourish in their power until after the Civil War, so if you’re a Federalist, your arguments about “original intent’ are specious. Corporations were constrained, held accountable, people in the corporations were hugely liable for damages, and it did not become reified until the legal cases AdLib mentions.

I have decided to become a Strict Constructionist. In 1788-89 when the Constitution was ratified, the colonies-cum-states still regulated all markets, prices, and standards of production. Women still had many legal rights they lost over the next 50 years. Property held in common (corporate) did not confer immunity on the owners, and NONE of that changed via the constitution, only via state law. So you can see, as a Strict Constructionist, I will argue that unregulated capital, abuses of the Bill of Rights against anyone including employees, the unfettered dominance of property over people, and the subordination of women ALL were unconstitutional then and now. As for slaves and all ‘citizens’ the 13th-15th amendments take care of that once and for all. By strict constructionist standards, even Roe v Wade prevails – abortion was entirely legal until 1869 when state statutes outlawed it.

See? Two can play this game. I’m all for it. Bring it on! Let’s let the Constitution REALLY prevail and see who REALLY wins this. You have to know the status of the law everywhere in the new states and not just what you WANT it to be in the sparse federal rulings to be a REAL Constitutional lawyer and scholar.

Original intent meets my criteria for a moral economy and civil society, and Citizens United fails on every standard of precedent and original meaning.

Back to basics! Corporations are NOT immune from liability and NOT superior to people!


AdLib – bravo! Thanks first of all for noting that the findings in Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad were NOT the work of the Supreme Court but of the court clerk who had an agenda. To see this SCOTUS deliberately ignore the case to build precedent upon that faulty interpretation is disgusting. I once argued the SCOTUS of the SCC v. SPR case had engaged in “judicial activism”, but knowing the truth means it’s THIS one, not the 1886 ruling, that set the standard.

I agree that if corporations are fictitious persons, they need to be limited to all the rights of real ones and held accountable for all the responsibilities of real ones. That should mean they have the same contribution limits of real people and the accountability of real people.

My only quibble is not believing in the death penalty for real people, but that does not alleviate the possibility of dissolving them as constitutional actors as we do real felons. We must also consider the need to include their accomplices – their directors and hirelings – in the penalties.

There have been cases, and I’m not sure of outcomes, where managers and owners have been charged with second degree murder for the deaths of employees when the probability of such death was known and preventable. In one case, an employee died of exposure to cyanide under conditions the managers knew would likely cause his death. They were accused and tried for second degree murder. They were NOT convicted. Juries have problems with that form of culpability outside civil remedies, which is a shame.

But we need to keep pursuing these criminal as well as civil remedies since Citizens United has handed us a new standard. Yes, if corporations are people, too, then by all the laws on the books they must be held accountable. There must be challenges to their power and that of their accomplices and agents. They do not get to be greater than the rest of us.

That said, it will be a cold day in hell before this SCOTUS will find in keeping with our logic. When Scalia announced that women had no protection under the Constitution, we knew that the simple definition of “citizen” had undergone a fundamental change in this man’s fervid mind. We have few Constitutional scholars on the court. We instead have corporate accomplices. When you put the fox guarding the hen house, it’s never good for the hens.


Bravo Ad Lib…THEY (corporations) shouldn’t be ABLE to have it both ways…either they are RESPONSIBLE citizens who ENJOY all the benefits of personhood and THUS ALL The consequences that go with it…or they aren’t. PERIOD.

SO Yes, it shouldn’t just be a tongue and cheek proposal…as THEY should NOT be allowed to have it both ways.

The legal concept of a Corporation is to limit personal responsibility of the owners for actions of the business…HOWEVER if they the owners of corporations and their overseers are going to argue THAT they should have the ALL the privileges of personhood than it SHOULD follow they should have the same responsibilities and consequences…otherwise their paper standing does not stand.


Hi there Abby!
I miss you!


Whoa! AdLib, you are on to something there!
You are right, someone needs to ensure they ‘celebrate their personhood’ by accepting the personal
responsibility inherent with such designation; including paying ‘personhood taxes as well!’


Very good point, AdLib, if they chose “personhood” they get all the rights and all the responsibilities, they don’t get to pick and chose which ones they want to be applied to them.
How well would that go over in court if one can say “well, that law doesn’t apply to me, I don’t recognize it.

If a major conglomerate buys and sells some smaller companies, it that not “trafficking,” slave trading? Isn’t the selling/buying of other persons illegal? Where is the 14th amendment ruling on that one?


neatly tucked in one of their ‘personhood’ pockets??