By Douglas Darrell
Posted Oct 9, 2018 at 10:06 AMUpdated Oct 9, 2018 at 10:06 AM
All people are born with inalienable rights — the right to practice one’s chosen religion, to exercise free speech, etc. These rights define our personhood and cannot be transferred from person to person; they are inherent. They are also the core of our country’s founding principles and the riveting power behind the phrase “We the People”: each person is created equal and deserves the same human and legal rights.
However, courts have dictated that corporations have the same ‘personhood.’ Their rulings have applied the rights of a single human to the conglomerate of individuals who make up a corporation. In other words, by virtue of individuals in a corporation having inalienable rights, the corporation has these same rights, even though, by definition, inalienable rights aren’t transferable.
These claimed corporate ‘rights’ were first recognized in 1886′s State of California vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Supreme Court decision. Despite dissenting opinions, presiding Justice Waite stated that corporations “are guaranteed the property right written in the 14th Amendment.” Over the next 30 years, the 14th amendment was used less than 20 times to defend the rights of freed slaves and over 200 times to defend the property rights of corporations.
So even though corporations are man-made, they are court-recognized as having “God-given” or “Creator-given” or “DNA-given” (fill in your worldview) rights, i.e. we have given the power of individual personhood to a special class. This reality is unseemly considering that both our federal and state Bill of Rights were written for the protection of the rights of sovereign individuals, not for a special class of people (e.g. those in a corporation) who are unified in the pursuit of special privilege, which is different than rights.
Nonetheless, the recognition of corporate personhood has created special privilege that pits class against class and draws to mind the quote “a house divided against itself will fall.” Corporate personhood creates division in our country by impeding citizen sovereignty to seek public good via government that is incorporated—to quote NH Bill of Rights Article 1 — “through the consent of the governed,” meaning through the consent of individuals, not through the consent of corporations court-recognized as individuals.
This division has been sowed via authoritarianism exercised under the mantle of democracy — democracy swayed in function by corporate influence. What sounds like conspiracy theory is just the people’s lobster unknowingly boiling in the corporate ‘rights’ pot. Namely, court-appointed corporate personhood has been strengthened through subsequent court rulings like Citizen’s United and Dillon’s Rule, the latter of the two generating the function of New Hampshire’s state preemption, i.e. New Hampshire municipalities and the residents in them cannot make laws unless the state says they can.
Put another way, we don’t live free or die because despite our New Hampshire Bill of Rights declaring the unconstitutionality of it, the reality of New Hampshire residents is that corporations now have equal and even more standing than we do: 1) state preemption disallows citizens from elevating their rights above those of corporate claimed rights; 2) if citizens sue a corporation for harms its project has exacted on their community, the corporation’s project permit is recognized as an individual’s legal property, and corporate ‘personhood’ is allowed to undermine our attempt to collectively exercise individual rights in the municipalities where we live.
But New Hampshire communities have pushed back with rights-based ordinances (RBOs) based on our inalienable right to self-govern. According to New Hampshire Bill of Rights Article 10, these RBOs reform our government, rewriting our social contract with the state by providing our communities with protection when our government is not doing so for us as it says it must in NH Bill of Rights Article 2. Almost a dozen New Hampshire towns and counting have adopted these RBOs, turning off the heat on themselves in the boiling pot of claimed corporate ‘rights’ by envisioning communities in which the rights of people and ecosystems are not subjugated to the ‘rights’ of corporations and in which corporations are welcome if they are forward thinking and innovative enough to recognize the need for and rightness of this paradigm shift.
Residents up and down New Hampshire have called for a state constitutional amendment to recognize citizens’ right to self-govern for the protection of our and our ecosystems’ health, safety, and welfare. The resulting NH Community Rights Amendment earned 1/3 the NH House’s support in 2018 and will be back some time again after September’s election season. Visit http://www.nhcommunityrights.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
— Douglas Darrell is a New Hampshire Community Rights Network board member