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Letter: Corporations Aren’t People


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National Review Online’s editorial “Keep the First Amendment” contains several unfortunate falsehoods about the People’s Rights Amendment, the purpose of which is to make it clear, as the Framers intended and consistent with republican principles, that constitutional rights, such as free speech, belong only to natural persons, and not to corporations.

The Constitution protects certain individual rights that are vital to safeguarding our free society. Only our most sacred rights are enshrined in the Constitution, and thereby afforded the unique authority of that document.

Many other rights also exist, conferred by statute or by case law or common law. These rights are properly subject to legislation, and lack the unique protection of the Constitution.

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Corporate law, appropriately, is in this latter category. Corporations are artificial entities, created by people. In order to accomplish important economic goals, we the people grant charters to corporations, conferring various legal rights, including the ability to enter into contracts, and great privileges, such as limited liability and perpetual life.

These corporate rights and privileges are properly guaranteed by law, but are not so sacred as to be protected by the Constitution, because corporations are not people. This critical distinction — between constitutional rights that properly belong only to people, and other, subordinate legal rights that legitimately extend to corporations — is the crux of the People’s Rights Amendment. Your editorial unfortunately ignores this distinction, falsely asserting that the People’s Rights Amendment would eliminate all these legal rights. It will not. It simply clarifies that constitutional rights are only for people.

Your editorial also claims, incorrectly, that “individuals acting in collaboration with others would be stripped of those rights.” This reveals a misunderstanding of the definition of a corporation. By definition, a corporation is different from an un-incorporated association. Individuals acting in collaboration with others are, by default, in an un-incorporated association unless they choose to incorporate. The constitutional rights of individuals are always protected by the Constitution, both now and under the People’s Rights Amendment; the amendment only affects corporations.

Further, the rights of individuals remain protected by the Constitution even when individuals participate in a corporation. But the corporation itself does not have constitutional rights. Only individual, natural persons have those rights, and this is what the People’s Rights Amendment clarifies.

Your editorial also makes false claims that the People’s Rights Amendment would adversely impact freedom of the press. These claims are clearly contradicted by section 3 of the amendment, which reads:

Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

Finally, it is important to point out that the People’s Rights Amendment applies equally to all corporations. Unlike other amendments currently in play, the People’s Rights Amendment contains no exemption for nonprofit corporations, or for incorporated labor unions. This may be why it is among the only amendments on this issue that have bipartisan support in Congress.

Public polling has found that 79 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats “support a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision and make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.”

The movement for such a constitutional amendment is growing. Three states have formally called for one, and many more are on their way. Support is also growing in Congress, on both sides of the aisle.

We hope the National Review will cover this issue more accurately in the future.

Sincerely,

Peter Schurman
Campaign Director
Free Speech for People

John Bonifaz
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Free Speech for People

Jeff Clements
Co-Founder and President
Free Speech for People



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