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.

Talk on Move to Amend National Goals

Introduction and remarks begins at about the 18:30 mark.

Supreme Authority: The Growing Power of the US Supreme Court and Democratic Alternatives

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Seems like a good time to resurrect this…

There are alternatives. Supreme Court justices don’t have to be appointed for life. And the highest court in the land doesn’t have to have so much power and authority. Scores of countries — including other “democracies” — have term limits, mandatory retirement ages, etc. Maybe it’s time we have a serious discussion about adding this to what needs amending in the U.S. Constitution.

http://poclad.org/BWA/2014/BWA_2014_Oct.html

 

 

What are Kavanaugh’s views on the rights of corporations?

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Letter to the editor: September 8, Akron Beacon Journal
https://www.ohio.com/akron/editorial/voice-of-the-people/letters-to-the-editor-sept-8-what-are-kavanaughs-views-on-the-rights-of-corporations-children-in-the-shadow-of-polluting-plants

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has said that Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh “interprets the law and the Constitution based on their words and original meaning and doesn’t try to influence public policy by imposing his own point of view.” This falls in line with Kavanaugh’s self-assessment that he’s simply an umpire who follows the letter of the law and Constitution.

If actually true, that’s terrific news for the increasing number of people in our country who’ve been victimized by corporations that have been shielded by never-intended constitutional rights — what some call “corporate personhood.”

The Constitution doesn’t mention corporations. That hasn’t prevented activist Supreme Courts for more than a century from overturning hundreds of local, state and federal laws protecting workers, consumers, residents and communities, as well as the environment, based on the illegitimate premise that corporations should have inalienable constitutional rights that were intended solely for human beings.

No public official ever voted to create or expand constitutional corporate personhood. No social movement ever organized for more corporate constitutional rights vested with the authority to preempt democratically enacted laws. It has only been unaccountable and extremist judges who’ve expanded corporate rights, leading to reduced human rights.

Since more corporate-related cases will come before the high court in the future, knowing nominees’ views on corporate personhood is legitimate.

As the original Constitution affirms no rights to corporations, “umpire” Kavanaugh should be crystal clear that he believes that the Bill of Rights, 14th Amendment and other constitutional protections should apply only to human beings. If he cannot, he should be opposed.

Greg Coleridge
Outreach director, Move to Amend Coalition
Cleveland Heights

“Corporate Personhood” should be litmus test for Brett Kavanaugh confirmation

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PRESS RELEASE

For release on Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Contact:  Greg Coleridge, 216-255-2184, greg@movetoamend.org

“CORPORATE PERSONHOOD” SHOULD BE LITMUS TEST FOR BRETT KAVANAUGH CONFIRMATION

[Cleveland, OH] Democracy activists and several local public officials are calling on Ohio’s U.S. Senators to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court if he believes corporations possess the same inalienable constitutional rights as human beings.

The group, organized by the Move to Amend campaign, held a press conference in front of the Carl B. Stokes Federal Courthouse in Cleveland where they read a questionnaire that was later delivered to the offices of U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. The group called on the Senators to ask the specific questions contained in the document to Mr. Kavanaugh before deciding whether to confirm Kavanaugh to the High Court. Each question highlighted a different never-intended constitutional right that previous Supreme Courts had given to corporations (what may call “corporate personhood).

Speaking at the press conference were State Senator Mike Skindell; State Representatives Nickie Antonio and Kent Smith; Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore Federation AFL-CIO; Ted Seuss, Regional Coordinator of Ohio Single-Payer Action Network; Lois Romanoff, Cleveland Move to Amend co-coordinator; Sally Hanley, Cleveland Heights Move to Amend co-coordinator; and Greg Coleridge, Move to Amend national Outreach Director.

“Corporations aren’t mentioned in the U.S. Constitution,” said Greg Coleridge, national Move to Amend Outreach Director. “They’re artificial state creations, originally intended to be subordinate to We the People and defined by legislatures through charters. No citizen or legislature ever voted to grant corporations constitutional rights. Activist Supreme Court rulings for more than a century have placed corporations well beyond the democratic reach of the people. It is past time for all Supreme Court justice nominees to be given a democratic litmus test on their views on corporate constitutional rights during the confirmation process. Toward that end, we’re asking our Senators to ask Brett Kavanaugh the list of questions we’ve developed to determine his views on the subject and oppose him if he supports corporate personhood.”

Move to Amend is a grassroots national coalition working on a U.S. Constitutional Amendment to end corporate constitutional rights and political money defined as protected free speech under the First Amendment. Its We the People Amendment, H.J.R. 48, has 62 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hundreds of organizations and nearly 800 communities, including 23 in Ohio, have passed resolutions or ballot initiatives in support of such an amendment.

The press conference took place on the first day of Senate confirmation hearings of Mr. Kavanaugh. The questionnaire is being delivered or sent to every U.S. Senator.

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Don’t Let the Ability to Rein In Corporate Rule Slip Through Our Hands Like Water – Time to Amend the Constitution Now!

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What does this year’s Oscar winner for best film and the topic of a new book on corporate power have in common? Besides the Oscar announcement and book release being just days apart, the title of the best film, “The Shape of Water” describes a property of nature that corresponds to a major theme described in We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler.

Like water, corporations are increasingly legally malleable and pliable. Water conforms to whatever shape it occupies. It’s natural law. The “shape” or definition of corporations is not due to gravity or any other law of nature. The “shape of corporations” is increasingly due to intentional and deliberate activist Supreme Court decisions over more than the past century, with some decisions seemingly contradicting previous ones, yet virtually always providing corporations greater flexibility and power.

The widening and deepening anger over the ever-expanding abuses and assaults of corporations to people, communities and the planet coupled with the frustration that traditional activist responses are less effective has given rise to greater interest in the subject that Winkler examines: corporate personhood and rights.

Winkler’s historical account of how corporations came to acquire constitutional rights of people is helpful, especially if it reaches new audiences. It’s a history, however, that for the past number of years, if not decades, has been shared in great detail in talks, writings, workshops and videos by the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and Move to Amend – as well as in earlier books, most notably Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became ‘People’ and How You Can Fight Back by Thom Hartmann. That history spelled out that the shape of corporations was not like water, but more like bedrock – strictly defined by We the People through elected representatives by separate corporate charters and later general incorporation acts. Sovereign people were in charge of their legal creations with corporations only possessing privileges, not inalienable rights.

Not as helpful for people wanting to understand this complex topic and interested in taking meaningful action for fundamental change is Winkler’s lack of clarity in some of the articles about his book over the term “corporate personhood.”  “Corporate personhood” and “corporate constitutional rights” are not the same.

Legal personhood for incorporated entities (i.e. corporate personhood) are legal rights established by governmental laws — known as statutory rights. The legal capacity or legal “personality” of corporation includes the ability to make contracts and other obligations, hold property, sue to enforce their rights and be sued for breach of duty.

Constitutional rights, including the Bill of Rights, were originally intended solely for human beings — albeit, at first, only to white, male, property owners. Constitutional rights were never intended to apply to corporate entities. The word “corporation” is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Corporate constitutional rights have been granted exclusively by the unelected body of the Supreme Court. No public official or voter has ever had the authority to grant corporate entities inalienable constitutional rights.

The growing grassroots movement to end corporate constitutional rights, facilitated by Move to Amend, and proposed by its We the People Amendment – declaring that only human beings possess inalienable constitutional rights and that money in political elections, which is not equivalent to First Amendment free speech, can be legislatively regulated — doesn’t advocate to end corporate personhood, only corporate constitutional rights. Corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights are not interchangeable, at least not in the law. Mixing the two only produces confusion, which leads to inaction, which we as people under expanding corporate assaults and plunders cannot afford at a time when fundamental democratic change is urgent.

The repeated fears expressed by Winkler and others that ending corporate rights would result in random government seizure of property or censorship of the media doesn’t square with the law or reality and, again, confuses corporate personhood and constitutional rights. A corporation as an entity representing the collective individual constitutional rights of its shareholders to defend their property rights would not change with the abolition of the corporation’s constitutional rights. The landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case upholding freedom of the press made no mention of the newspaper’s corporate form – what shielded the Times was the First Amendment’s “freedom of the press” not corporate constitutional rights. And why do we never, ever hear of such grave injustices toward corporations in other western “democracies” – countries with statutory protections of corporations (i.e. personhood) but apparently none of which have anointed corporations with inalienable constitutional rights? How many “corporate persons” have we seen on life rafts flocking to U.S. shores to escape the carnage of corporate “death penalties” and other miseries to the corporate life and limb?

Winkler makes an important point that the Supreme Court decreasingly considers corporations as their own legal person in constitutional cases. The Citizen United v. FEC ruling, for example, which expanded the ability of corporate entities to donate (or invest) in elections wasn’t based on the “corporations are people” premise, but rather on two arguments. First, limiting corporate political speech was a violation not because the organization Citizens United was a corporate person, but because limiting its corporate speech violated “listeners’ rights.” The person, not the government, had “the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration,” stated Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. Second, limiting Citizens United’s political speech was actually a limit on collective individual speech since the corporation is merely a type of voluntary association of people, specifically shareholders. It’s not just individuals who have constitutional rights, so the argument goes, but individuals in their associated form who come together for mutual purposes.

While the Court has a long history of concocting fantastic pretzel-like legal contortions to justify widening the power and rights of the few and privileged and denying the rights of those historically oppressed (i.e. justifying women as subordinate to men, slaves as property, holding up Jim Crow segregation for sixty years, etc.), it’s nevertheless critical to understand and strategically counter the latest defenses to corporate concentrated power.

A person has no more the inalienable right to “listen” as (s)he has the rights to speak at will, for as long as (s)he may want for hours on end before, say, a city council meeting – including being prohibited from speaking at all if the message isn’t germane or the person may live outside the community. Reasonable limits are legitimate and the rule (e.g., usually a five minute maximum testimony at council meetings). Curious that nowhere in the Citizens United ruling was referenced rights to be heard from individuals whose voices are drowned out since they aren’t wealthy or don’t own a corporation. These rights are completely absent from the equation when calculating corporate free speech.

When it comes to corporations as nothing more than an association of persons, it’s back to the “shape of water” argument. When it’s convenient for a corporation to be separate from its shareholders to avoid being personally liable for a corporate malfeasance, then there’s zero connection, but when it’s convenient for the corporation to shield itself behind its human employees, shareholders, etc., then it’s nothing more than that — a mask to shirk responsibility. Corporate agents can’t have it both ways.

For those of us dedicated to opening up the democracy space that corporations have forever been trying to close, it’s necessary that any final proposed constitutional amendment addressing corporate rule close these loopholes.

Winkler has stated, “[t]he question is not whether corporations should have rights but which rights corporations should have. Today’s steady expansion of corporate rights is a product of giving corporations the same rights as their members. Instead, we should treat corporations as separate legal persons — with only those rights appropriate for corporations.” He’s correct. The corporate rights or protections that corporations should possess should be statutory. Inalienable rights belong alone to human beings.

Corporations have been playacting as “persons” in too many ways for too long – well deserving its own separate academy award for the category of “Worse Stand in for a Human Being.” Yet the Oscar it deserves is no more a legal person than Oscar Meyer (the corporation). Both are objects created by human beings to presumably serve some useful purpose (though maybe questionable given the ingredients in many hot dogs). It’s time that we clearly affirm that unalienable constitutional rights must be reserved exclusively for human beings, not for a hot dog or any corporation– no matter how much they may dramatically act like one.

The legal profession — too many Supreme Court Justices, almost all corporate attorneys and more than a few constitutional law professors — has been the directors and producers of this frightful show. With straight faces they have expanded or argued for corporate rights over human rights and the right to thrive in a livable world.

We cannot be intimidated or confused. While not lawyers or jurists, the vast majority of people in this country have PhDs on being on the short end of one assault or another by wealthy corporations. Permitting such assaults to people, communities and the planet – be they defended by corporate constitutional rights, listener’s rights or any other concocted bogus legal constructs — is the ultimate theatrical fantasy that has been a real life disaster that only an independent, diverse and fearless democracy movement will end.

 

How Judicial Review & Life Time Appointments Make the Supreme Court a Democratic Threat

 

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Workshop at Democracy Convention  |  Saturday, August 5, Minneapolis, MN
David Cobb and Greg Coleridge
Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy Principals

http://kfai.org/northern-sun-news/playlists/20170810

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