2014-07-15—Has Inc. become the equivalent of a title of nobility in the United States?
The left is outraged because the Supreme Court continues to recognize rights of corporations that heretofore only belonged to persons. “Corporations are people” is the feared formulation. But, of course, corporations are people. The real question is not whether corporations are people. The real question is whether recent legal decisions have the effect of granting to some people rights that are superior to other people.
In other words, has Inc. become a title of nobility?
For what difference is their between CEOs of modern corporations and titled nobility of fiefdoms of a bygone age. They both tie wealth and political power. Isn’t it just a matter of lingo?
If they are the same, the constitution forbids it. Article 1, Section 9, provides:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”
The modern corporation, at least the large ones, have become grants of property rights now entailed with political rights. They have “limited” rights of sovereignty, which excused them from liability for many types of wrongdoing that people-persons can’t get away with. In recent years, they have gained rights to influence the political process, which amount to little more than legal bribery. And they now have a right to nullify national laws, not only for themselves, but for the “polity” of their body of employees.
I think there is a case to be made that accretions to the powers of corporations have made the corporate form itself equivalent to a title of nobility.
But, before you get all excited about a new legal theory, let me take the other side of the argument.
The first amendment of the Constitution has been interpreted as protecting the freedom of association. It may seem ironic that this right was recognized in the case National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama. People can organize for all sorts of purposes in this country, some that we agree with and some that we don’t agree with. The first amendment protects our right to do this (except possibly for the right of employees to associate to bargain with employers—yet another case where the corporate form trumps individual rights).
So we could have a situation in which the modern corporation could be seen as both prohibited and protected by the Constitution. Could it be that a balance could be struck by allowing corporations to exist as they once existed as business entities, eliminated the political powers they’ve been given in recent years?
You might think so. But then, you are not a justice of the Supreme Court.