By Daniel Rigney
What’s all this I hear about “corporate personhood”?*
Everywhere I turn lately, people seem to be asking whether we as a democracy should “end corporate personhood." I’m no legal expert, but I do have a few questions to help stimulate public discussion on this trending topic.
Such as …Does a corporation become a person at its moment of conception, even before it’s born? For instance, did Apple Inc. become a person when Steve Jobs first conceived it, or did its life as a person begin only after corporate attorneys midwifed it into legal existence?
Suppose Steve’s imagination had been fertile at the moment of corporate conception, but that he had chosen not to bring the concept to fruition. Would he then be liable to prosecution under a proposed constitutional amendment in Mississippi establishing conception as the beginning of personhood?
At what age does a corporation become fully responsible for its actions? 18? 21?
Before passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, was a corporate person only 3/5 of a real person?Are corporate persons male or female? Or neither? Or both?
I saw a sign on Wall Street that read “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” I wondered: Can an entire corporation receive a lethal injection under Texas law?
If the head of a corporation says it doesn’t know what the rest of its body is doing, is the head really responsible? (Some may know this as the “Ken Lay conundrum.")Can a corporation have a heart or soul? Does it have feelings? Can a corporate person be greedy, or predatory, or cold-blooded, or vicious, or profoundly corrupt? Can a corporate person be a bully?
Or does it take a real flesh-and-blood person to be all these things?
What’s that you say? It’s pointless even to ask questions like these because we're powerless to act on them? That corporate persons are effectively in charge of the American legal and political process, including the process of deciding whether or not they're corporate persons? That we live in a corporatocracy, and there's nothing we or the Supreme Court can do about it?
*with respects to the late comic actor Gilda Radner and her unforgettable SNL character Emily Litella.