The US Supreme Court decision that enables corporations to become full-throated participants in the political process by protecting their right to free speech raises a vexing philosophical question: if corporations are to get the same rights as people, why cant they vote For that matter, why not just nominate corporations for political office Some might say that Goldman Sachs already runs the Treasury Department, and the prior administration might have been characterised as government of Halliburton, by Halliburton, for Halliburton.
The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has uncovered one of the great civil-rights issues of today. Our interpretation of the US Constitution has been excessively people-ist, denying corporations their full rights as citizens. Far from an example of judicial activism, the courts ruling was the long-overdue righting of historical wrongs, undoing the long oppression of the downtrodden corporation. Then again, perhaps it was just a recognition of current reality.
One should read the words people or persons in the Constitution to mean people and/or any legally constituted corporate entity. As a result, since passage of the 14th Amendment, black-owned enterprises are no longer counted as three-fifths of a full corporation, and the 19th Amendment allows women-owned companies to vote. Now that corporations have their First Amendment rights to free speech restored, lets review whether new interpretations are needed for the remaining articles of the Bill of Rights:
Second and Third Amendments: Many corporations are well-armed relative to the rest of the population.
Fourth and Fifth Amendments: Could be a problem, since regulatory and securities law often requires disclosures by firms that may be considered an unreasonable search. Still, our nations leading bankers were careful to avoid any semblance of responsibility in their recent testimony on the financial meltdown. So maybe its a wash.
Sixth Amendment: Right to a speedy trial We should look into that for people before worrying about applying it to companies.
Seventh and Eighth Amendments: Trial by jury seems to be the norm already. As for cruel and unusual punishment, we might want to consider it for some companies.
Ninth and tenth Amendments: Heres the rub. All rights not specifically granted to the Feds under the Constitution are delegated to the states or the people. Now that corporations are full-fledged people, should we expect a Million-Suit March to descend on Washington agitating for expanded rights Of course, Capitol Hill awash in blue suits is already a daily occurrence. Its called lobbying.
We live in a world in which corporations exercise an incredible level of influence on our daily life and our fate as a nation. No institution on the planet has as much power to do good or ill as the business community. This is a problem, but its also an opportunity, because the vast majority of people who run businesses are good folks. They aim to do the best they can for their customers, the community and the planet.
At the same time, because of their power, we often let businesses, especially big businesses, off the hook too easily. While doctors take a vow to do no harm and lawyers vow to serve the law, we require no similar larger pledge from corporations. Until corporations are held responsible for more than simply making a profit, their role as citizens must be seen as risky at best. How many votes do they get How do we determine their citizenship
Back to my proposal to let corporations run for office. In that spirit, it is my high honour to nominate one of our newly enfranchised corporate citizens. A citizen that has shown, in this hour of need, that it is able to create jobs. That understands how to invest and grow and meet a payroll. That has the character to stand up for freedom and justice at home, in China, and around the world. And that has pledged, above all, dont be evil.
It is with great pleasure that I nominate this fine citizen, Google Inc, for the presidency of the US.
The author is a software entrepreneur and former Harvard University Kennedy School of Government fellow.