Wednesday, November 02, 2005

why we don't need corporate cronies on the bench

From Thom Hartmann:

Jefferson and Madison proposed an 11th Amendment to the Constitution that would "ban monopolies in commerce," making it illegal for corporations to own other corporations, banning them from giving money to politicians or trying to influence elections in any way, restricting corporations to a single business purpose, limiting the lifetime of a corporation to something roughly similar to that of productive humans (20 to 40 years back then), and requiring that the first purpose for which all corporations were created be "to serve the public good."

The amendment didn't pass because many argued it was unnecessary: Virtually all states already had such laws on the books from the founding of this nation until the Age of the Robber Barons.

Wisconsin, for example, had a law that stated: "No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office." The penalty for any corporate official violating that law and getting cozy with politicians on behalf of a corporation was five years in prison and a substantial fine.


Prior to 1886, the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment defined human rights, and individuals - representing themselves and their own opinions - were free to say and do what they wanted. Corporations, being artificial creations of the states, didn't have rights, but instead had privileges. The state in which a corporation was incorporated determined those privileges and how they could be used. And the same, of course, was true for other forms of "legally enacted game playing" such as unions, churches, unincorporated businesses, partnerships, and even governments, all of which have only privileges.

But with the stroke of his pen, Court Reporter Davis moved corporations out of that "privileges" category - leaving behind all the others (unions, governments, and small unincorporated businesses still don't have "rights") - and moved them into the "rights" category with humans, citing the 14th Amendment which was passed at the end of the Civil War to grant the human right of equal protection under the law to newly-freed slaves.

On December 3, 1888, President Grover Cleveland delivered his annual address to Congress. Apparently the President had taken notice of the Santa Clara County Supreme Court headnote, its politics, and its consequences, for he said in his speech to the nation, delivered before a joint session of Congress: "As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters." - read it all
As Thom Hartman points out corporations were never supposed to get as large and powerful as they are today, they're becoming dangerous to democracy. We need Supreme Court justices that legislate with that in mind, not the opposite.


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