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Darn Right We're Keeping Score

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Until 1886, the law said corporations weren't people. But in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have the same rights as humans. Or did it? The court's official opinion says it did not consider corporate personhood. The only statement that corporations have 14th Amendment rights is in the headnotes, which have no value as legal precedent. That hasn't stopped courts ever since from declaring that the Bill of Rights is as much for corporations as it is for real people.

Historical Scorecard
People Corporations  
red check
  1773 Boston Tea Party: Unfair taxes and corporation-favoring trade laws inspire colonists to toss 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor.
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1819 Dartmouth College v. Woodward: Government can't alter corporate charters.
red check
  1868 Paul v. Virginia: Explicit Supreme Court holding: Corporations are not people.
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  1877 Munn v. Illinois: No 14th Amendment protection for corporations.
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1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad: Landmark case establishing precedent of corporate personhood.
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  1890 Progressive Era: T. Roosevelt, known for trust busting, sues 45 trusts in two terms. Less known: Taft sued 90 in just four years.
red check
  1890 Sherman Act: First anti-trust law; isn't used until 1904.
black check
1905 Lochner v. New York: Establishes 5th Amendment “substantive due process” for corporations; used to overturn 200 regulatory laws in 30 years.
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1906 Hale v. Henkle: Corporations get 4th Amendment search and seizure protection in criminal cases.
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  1911 Standard Oil v. U.S.: Found J.D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil empire to be a monopoly; dissolved trust into nine firms, including Exxon, Mobil, and Chevron.
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1914 Clayton Act: Bolsters regulatory agencies and provides key definitions missing from Sherman, such as “trust.”

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1925 Gitlow v. New York: Expands corporate rights under 1st, 5th, and 14th amendments.
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  1935 Wagner Act: Part of New Deal. Strengthened worker rights and unions, established National Labor Relations Board to oversee labor issues.
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1947 Taft-Hartley Act: Corporations regain leverage on fledgling unions.

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1976 VA Pharmacy Board v. VA Consumer Council: Finds that advertising constitutes free speech.

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1976 Buckley v. Valeo: Political contributions are protected free speech; can't be regulated.

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1978 Marshall v. Barlow's Inc.:
4th Amendment requires OSHA to get warrant for safety inspections.

black check

1996 Telecommunications Act:
Deregulates media consolidation. In 1983, 50 corporations control nearly all print, television, and radio. Now, five do.

black check

1996 International Dairy Foods v. Amestoy: Court overturns law requiring labels on products containing bovine growth hormone, holding that free speech includes right not to speak.

black check

1999-present, PA Townships, New Hampshire towns: Ordinances place rights of humans and environment above those of corporations. See article "Communities Take Power."

black check

2006 Measure T: Humboldt County, CA, voters revoke corporate personhood, ban political contributions from corporations based outside of county. See article "Democracy, Unlimited: Measure T Bans Corporate Campaign Financing."


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