Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, writes about Riki Ott‘s (Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill) efforts to introduce legislation towards passage of a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would strip corporations of personhood in this article for Truthdig.
The power of ExxonMobil to battle tens of thousands of citizens has pushed Ott to join a growing number of activists who want to put corporations back in their place by stripping them of their legal status as “persons.” A 19th century U.S. Supreme Court decision gave corporations the same status as people, with access to the protections of the Bill of Rights. Ironically, this comes from the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection clause,” adopted to protect freed slaves from oppressive state laws after the Civil War. Corporations were historically chartered by states to conduct their business. States could revoke a corporation’s charter if it broke the law or acted beyond its charter.
Corporations’ “free speech” is interpreted to include making campaign contributions and lobbying Congress. People who break laws can be locked up; when a corporation breaks the law—even behaving criminally negligently, causing death—rarely are the consequences greater than a fine, which the corporation can write off on its taxes. As Ott put it, “If ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws can put a person in prison for life, why not a corporation?” So-called tort reform in U.S. law is eroding an individual’s ability to sue corporations and the ability for courts to assess damages that would actually deter corporate wrongdoing.
Ott and others have drafted a “28th Amendment” to the Constitution that would strip corporations of their personhood, subjecting them to the same oversight that existed for the first 100 years of U.S. history.
With the global economic meltdown and welling public outrage over the excesses of executives at AIG as well as over other bailout beneficiaries, now just might be the time to expand public engagement over the imbalance of power between people and corporations that has undermined our democracy.