Now That We’re Talking About Citizenship, Let’s Revoke Corporate Personhood

August 27, 2015
C. Robert Gibson

Thanks to Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings, to the point where the media iscalculating the cost of these insane and unconstitutional proposals. If Trump wants to revoke the citizenship of people who are using up all of our resources and not paying taxes, and if the media really wants to have the conversation, let’s start with multinational corporations.

The 14th Amendment was originally written to prevent the government from infringing on the “life, liberty, and property” of people, particularly newly freed slaves, in the wake of the Civil War. But corporations seeking to increase their power and wealth hired lawyers and sought to get 14th Amendment protection for themselves to get around government regulations. In the 1886 Southern Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County case, court reporter JC Bancroft Davis — who happened to be a railroad executive — notated that corporations are legal entities with the same rights as people, and that’s gone unchallenged for more than a century. In a 20-year period between 1890 and 1910, some 300 14th Amendment cases were brought before the Supreme Court — 288 of those were brought by corporations, and only 19 were brought by African-Americans.


Corporations are legal entities incapable of breathing, bleeding, aging, or dying, and should have never been granted the same rights as actual human beings. The concentration of corporate power has exponentially increased in the last 200 years, turning corporations into entities with far more rights and privileges than the rest of us. While Move to Amend compiled a timeline of court decisions that increased corporate power from 1787 to the present day, here are a few monumental decisions that illustrate the alarming power corporations have accumulated through the courts:

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819): Corporate charters are no longer privileges granted by the government, but independent contracts that cannot be altered by government.

Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad v. Beckwith (1889): Supreme Court rules corporations are “people” in cases of due process and equal protection.

Hale v. Henkel (1906): Corporations granted 4th Amendment “search and seizure” rights, preventing government agencies from looking through corporate financials for evidence of law-breaking.

Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee (1933): Supreme Court overturns a Florida tax that targets chain stores, citing equal protection clause in 14th Amendment. This ruling is used today to overrule towns that vote against chains like Walmart taking root in their communities.

Buckley v. Valeo (1976): The Supreme Court equates donations to political campaigns with free speech.

First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1977): The Supreme Court overturns state legislation banning corporations from donating to support or oppose ballot referenda. When combining this ruling with Buckley v. Valeo, corporations now have full protection to use the money in their treasuries to influence local, state, and federal elections without any fear of retribution.

International Dairy Foods Assn. v. Amestoy (1996): Supreme Court rules corporations have 1st Amendment right to not speak in statements of fact or opinion, undoing laws that require the labeling of bovine growth hormones in dairy products. This ruling is also cited by corporations opposing the labeling of genetically-modified organisms in food.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010): The Supreme Court overturns a century of legal precedent of Congressional authority to regulate political spending, and rules that limitations on corporate campaign donations are unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment.

These 8 cases effectively granted corporations more rights than mortal human beings. And due to the combination of Buckley v. ValeoFirst National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, and Citizens United v. FEC, corporations can literally buy elections with no legal recourse, allowing them to further rig the political process — and the economy, by default — in their favor. In the meantime, laws passed by Congress and signed by presidents who receive these donations allow the wholesale bankrupting of the U.S. Treasury as corporate profits made in the U.S. are booked in overseas, tax-free bank accounts.


Through a century of aggressive legal tactics and election-buying, corporations have now become super-human entities with the legal rights to use up our resources and cheat the nation out of tax revenue. The only way to undo this process is channeling our inner Donald Trump and revoking 14th Amendment protections for corporations. A constitutional amendment that explicitly states that corporations aren’t people, and that money is not speech would do the trick. The organization Move to Amend is doing just that, and have roughly 535 resolutions that have either been passed at the local/state level or are currently in progress. State legislatures in Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, and West Virginia have already passed such resolutions.

Donald Trump has been able to shift the Overton Window of acceptable political discourse far to the right in just a matter of weeks, to where the media is now entertaining discussion on the idea of revoking citizenship for human beings. The left must be just as willing to push the discussion toward revoking corporate citizenship due to the harm they’ve caused to our political process, as well as our public programs that have been slashed to the bone due to corporations avoiding billions in taxes.