Constitution In A Box

ConstitutionBox

Testimony of Greg Coleridge
Democracy Day Public Hearing, January 17, 2019, Cleveland Heights City Hall

Think of the U.S. Constitution as a box. It symbolizes our democratic space, rights and responsibilities, and limits. It’s a space that allows our public officials and citizens to determine the kind of society – politically, economically, environmentally, socially – that we want. Its size has expanded with each of the 27 Constitutional Amendments, as were passed following democratic people’s movements. The box has also enlarged due to various interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court.

But other Supreme Court interpretations have vastly decreased that democratic space – the box that we call our democracy. Many of those interpretations involved activist Supreme Court decisions that granted corporations with never-intended unalienable constitutional rights – rights that trumped people’s rights. Following each decision by the court, our democratic space contracted – the box became smaller.

Examples:

1819 – Corporate perversion of the Contract Clause
Dartmouth College v. Woodward. A corporate charter is ruled to be a contract and can’t be altered by government. States had less flexibility to use corporate charters as tools to define corporate actions.

1875 – Corporate perversion of the Commerce Clause
Welton v. State of Missouri, 91 U.S. 275. The Supreme Court begins a century long effort to frame every corporations action as a form of “interstate commerce” – which overrules the police power of cities and states to uphold their duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their communities.

1886 – Corporate perversion of the 14th Amendment
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
Corporations are in effect granted equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee (288 U.S. 517, 1933)
Florida voter passed a law that levied higher taxes on chain stores than on locally owned stores. The Supreme Court overturned the law citing the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Interstate Commerce clause.

1906 – Corporate perversion of the 4th Amendment
Hale v. Henkel – Corporations get 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protection. The public no longer has the ability to publicly inspect corporate books and records to ensure accountability.

A 1978 decision prohibited OSHA inspectors from doing surprise inspections.

1922 – Corporate perversion of the 5th Amendment
Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon A regulation is deemed a taking. A corporation subject to certain regulations has to be compensated for lost future profits.

1974 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment –
Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 – Corporations granted the right NOT to speak

They don’t have to reveal information, even if that information is important for public safety (i.e. toxins in food).

1980 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment – Commercial speech
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp., v. Public Utilities Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557
Corporate “commercial speech” rights (to increase profits_ preempted the state’s right to protect the welfare of its residents.

1976 – Money equals free speech
Buckley v Valeo. Political money in elections is a form of constitutionally protected First Amendment “free speech.”

1978 – Corporate perversion of the 1st Amendment – political free speech
First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765. U.S. constitutional law case defines the free speech right of corporations for the first time – the right to spend on issue campaigns.

2010 – Citizens United vs FEC
The ability to influence elections via money from wealthy individuals and corporations is expanded.

Our democratic “box” or space isn’t very large. So many people believe that what’s needed is simply to reverse Citizens United, end corporate political free speech and/or end “money is speech.” As you can see, however, our democratic space or box wasn’t nearly as large as it once was and needs to be before these Supreme Court rulings were made. It’s not enough to get big money out of elections before reversing the fact that our ability to self-rule has been inhibited by numerous court decisions.

That’s why Move to Amend calls for not only ending the constitutional doctrine that “political money is equivalent to 1st Amendment-protected “free speech,” but also calls for ending ALL forms of never -intended and at one time never-existing constitutional rights. Only a 28th Amendment that does both will enable government by We the People.

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Testimony at Democracy Day Public Hearing

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Greg Coleridge / February 26, 2019 / Brecksville, Ohio

Happy Democracy Day! Congratulations once more to the citizens of Brecksville for voting for a ballot initiative in 2012 calling on Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to end corporate rule and big money in elections by declaring that corporations don’t have constitutional rights and money spent in elections is not equal to political free speech.

Big problems require big solutions. The amendment is a big solution.

While much deserving attention tonight will be devoted to one piece of this proposed amendment – the impact of money in elections from the super wealthy and corporate entities, it’s not the only fundamental problem this amendment would fundamentally solve. The other problem is corporate rule or governance. Ending all corporate constitutional rights goes beyond corporate influence in elections to corporate power in direct rule making.

Inalienable rights apply to human beings. The Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment affirmed certain rights to human persons, not to corporations.

Corporations aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. Originally, they came into existence when sovereign state legislatures granted charters one at a time with clearly defined functions. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. No voter, citizen, social movement or elected official has ever granted corporations constitutional rights. Rather, it’s been activist Supreme Court Justices taking their cues time and again from corporate attorneys.

So, what’s been the impact of the corporate hijack of the Constitution? It’s been lethal on people, communities and our democratic republic.

Corporations have hijacked 1st Amendment “free speech” rights beyond the right to donate to political elections. The never intended corporate 1st amendment right NOT to speak has, for example, preempted passed laws informing consumers whether or not toxins are in their food. Never intended corporate 1st amendment “religious” rights have prevented women employees from receiving health care coverage because it violated the religious right of the business corporation – not the owners — but the corporation.

Corporations have hijacked 4th Amendment “search on seizure” rights. The courts have overturned democratically enacted laws and regulations requiring mandatory inspections of corporate property to ensure worker safety or environmental protections. Corporate rights have preempted these community rights to protect workers and the environment.

Corporations have hijacked 5th Amendment “takings” rights. Courts have overturned regulations ensuring the protection of homes, land and communities from a corporate action – claiming that regulations are “takings” and must be compensated. Thus, corporate property rights have preempted personal property rights.

Corporate have hijacked the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights – rights that were intended to apply at the end of the civil war solely to freed slaves. Laws passed by local communities that, for example, support local businesses that keep jobs and money recycling in the community over mega chain stores have been overturned by courts as “discriminatory” under the 14th Amendment.

And corporations have hijacked the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The power of local public officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and the community have by the scores been preempted by corporations claiming that, for instance, toxic waste is commerce and therefore legally permissible to be dumped in a community’s backyard. Efforts by farmers and rural communities in many states against agribusinesses or initiatives that mandate only those who farm the land can own the land have been overturned by the courts as a violation of the Commerce Clause in favor of corporations.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Yet, paradoxically, this amendment is extremely conservative because it advocates returning to a system where questions of money in elections and the relationship between corporations and people are no longer decided in the judicial arena (the courts) but are shifted back to the legislative arena – where they once were decided — where We the People have greater power.

It’s no wonder small businesses, family farmers, and local public officials support this amendment and why citizens across the country who have had a chance to vote on these initiatives like you did in Brecksville vote yes – by the hundreds – because it promotes the fundamental democratic right to decide.

Passing a constitutional amendment that not only ends political money defined as free speech but also ends all constitutional rights will help create real democracy. Awareness is spreading, as is the support because our rising fundamental problems require people to rise up for fundamental change.

It’s nice to have a Democracy Day. But I’m for — and I hope you are as well — real democracy year round.

Thank you.