It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.
--Anne Frank, from her diary, July 15, 1944
On September 2, 2009, the transnational pharmaceutical giant Pfizer pled guilty to multiple criminal felonies. It had been marketing drugs in a way that may well have led to the deaths of people and that definitely led physicians to prescribe and patients to use pharmaceuticals in ways they were not intended.
Because Pfizer is a corporation--a legal abstraction, really--it couldn't go to jail like fraudster Bernie Madoff or killer John Dillinger; instead it paid a $1.2 billion "criminal" fine to the U.S. government--the biggest in history--as well as an additional $1 billion in civil penalties. The total settlement was more than $2.3 billion--another record. None of its executives, decision-makers, stockholders/owners, or employees saw even five minutes of the inside of a police station or jail cell.
Most Americans don't even know about this huge and massive crime. Nor do they know that the "criminal" never spent a day in jail.
But they do know that in the autumn of 2004, Martha Stewart was con- victed of lying to investigators about her sale of stock in another pharmaceuti- cal company. Her crime cost nobody their life, but she famously was escorted off to a women's prison. Had she been a corporation instead of a human being, odds are there never would have even been an investigation.
Yet over the past century--and particularly the past forty years--corpo- rations have repeatedly asserted that they are, in fact, "persons" and therefore eligible for the human rights protections of the Bill of Rights.
In 2009 the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United argued before the Supreme Court that they had the First Amendment right to "free speech" and to influence elections through the production and the distribution of a slasher "documentary" designed to destroy Hillary Clinton's ability to win the Democratic nomination. (Some political observers assert that they did this in part because they believed that a Black man whose first name sounded like "Osama" and whose middle name was Hussein could never, ever, possibly win against a Republican, no matter how poor a candidate they put up.)
In that, they were following on a 2003 case before the Supreme Court in which Nike claimed that it had the First Amendment right to lie in its cor- porate marketing, a variation on the First Amendment right of free speech. (Except in certain contract and law enforcement/court situations, it's perfectly legal for human persons to lie in the United States. Nobody ever went to jail for saying, "No, of course you don't look fat in those pants!")
Corporations haven't limited their grasp to the First Amendment; pretty much any and virtually every amendment that could be used to further corpo- rate interests has been fair game. (They haven't yet argued the Third Amend- ment--you can't force citizens to quarter soldiers in their homes--although Blackwater's activities in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina could have provided an interesting test.)
As you'll learn in this book, in previous decades a chemical company took to the Supreme Court a case asserting its Fourth Amendment "right to privacy" from the Environmental Protection Agency's snooping into its illegal chemical discharges. Other corporations have asserted Fifth Amend- ment rights against self-incrimination as well as asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment--passed after the Civil War to strip slavery from the Constitu- tion--protects their right "against discrimination" by a local community that doesn't want them building a toxic waste incinerator, commercial hog opera- tion, or superstore.
If this trend continues, it's probably just a matter of time before a corpo- ration (maybe one of the many mercenary forces that emerged out of George W. Bush's Iraq War?) claims the Second Amendment right to bear arms any- where, anytime, and your credit card company's bill collector shows up at your home with a sidearm.
This legal situation is not only bizarre but also quite the opposite of the vision for this country held by the Founders of the nation and the Framers of the Constitution. They were sufficiently worried about corporate power that they didn't even include in the Constitution the word corporation, intending instead that the states tightly regulate corporate behavior (which the states did quite well until just after the Civil War).
The American Revolution, you'll learn in this book, was in fact provoked by the misbehavior of a British corporation; our nation was founded in an anti-corporate-power fury.
Corporate Personhood in the Making
The most significant and oft-quoted precedent to the turning point of corpo- rate power in America began just after the Civil War. It rested on a Consti- tutional Amendment successfully written and passed by a group of "Radical Republicans" after the Civil War to take slavery out of the Constitution.