American Corporations today enjoy many of the same rights as American citizens. Both, for instance, are entitled to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. Hardly oppressed like women and minorities, business corporations, too, have fought since the nation’s earliest days to gain equal rights under the Constitution―and today have nearly all the same rights as ordinary people.
Based on Joel Bakan’s bestseller The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, this 26-award-winning documentary explores a corporation’s inner workings, curious history, controversial impacts and possible futures. One hundred and fifty years ago, a corporation was a relatively insignificant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic, and pervasive presence in all our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, a corporation is today’s dominant institution. Charting the rise of such an institution aimed at achieving specific economic goals, the documentary also recounts victories against this apparently invincible force. Watch the unfortunate and neccessary sequel.
"WHAT'S WRONG WITH OUR WORLD? THIS IS A FILM FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO KNOW." Every meaningful change starts with awareness. In our culture, we not only praise psychopaths in the highest positions of power, but in many cases, they became our role models. Challenge your beliefs! We have delved into the world of psychopaths and heroes and revealed something crucial about us. Find Out More
2014Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores
A landmark decision allowing closely held for-profit corporations to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to if there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. It is the first time that the court has recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief. The decision is an interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and does not address whether such corporations are protected by the free-exercise of religion clause of the 1st Amendment.
2010Citizens United v. Federal Elections Comm.
Supreme Court overturned most provisions of McCain-Feingold legislation that restricted corporate money in federal elections and reversed a hundred-year precedent of Congressional authority to regulate federal elections. Most explicit justification of “corporate personhood” by the Court.
2003Nike v. Kasky
The Supreme Court heard arguments on whether purposeful untruths in advertising are protected political speech before sending the case back to a California court where it was settled in Kasky’s favor, finding that the state laws requiring truth in advertising had been violated. The question of whether the 1st Amendment gives a corporation the right to speak lies remains unsettled.
1996International Dairy Foods Association v. Amestoy
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a Vermont law requiring the labeling of all products containing bovine growth hormone. The right not to speak inheres in political and commercial speech alike and extends to statements of fact as well as statements of opinion.
1990Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Supreme Court upholds limitations on corporate spending in candidate elections. First Amendment rights can be infringed if the state has a compelling interest.
1986Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Commission
Supreme Court decided that PG&E was not required to allow a consumer advocacy group to use the extra space in their billing envelope, upholding the corporation's right not to speak and protecting the corporation's “freedom of mind.”
1978Marshall v. Barlow's Inc.
This case gave corporations the 4th Amendment right to require OSHA to produce a warrant to check for safety violations.
1977First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti
The First Amendment is used to overturn state restrictions on corporate spending on political referenda. The Court reverses its longstanding policy of denying such rights to non-media business corporations. This precedent is used, with Buckley v. Valeo, to thwart attempts to remove corporate money from politics.
VA. Pharmacy Board v. VA. Consumer Council
The Supreme Court protects commercial speech. Advertising is now free speech.
United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co.
A corporation successfully uses the 5th Amendment to protect itself against double jeopardy to avoid retrial in an anti-trust case.
1976Buckley v. Valeo
The Supreme Court rules that political money is equivalent to speech. This ruling expanded the First Amendment's protections to include financial contributions to candidates or parties.
1970Ross v. Bernhard
Corporations get 7th Amendment right to jury trial in a civil case. The Court implies that the corporation has this right because a shareholder in a derivative suit would have that right.
1967See v. City of Seattle
Supreme Court grants corporations 4th Amendment protection from random inspection by fire department. The Court framed the question in terms of “business enterprises,” corporate or otherwise. An administrative warrant is necessary to enter and inspect commercial premises.
Corporations are granted “free speech” in the union certification process, usurping the worker's right to “freedom of association” and greatly weakening the Labor Relations Act of 1935.
1936Grosjean v. American Press Co.
A newspaper corporation has a 1st Amendment liberty right to freedom of speech that would be applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. The Court ruled that the corporation was free to sell advertising in newspapers without being taxed. This is the first 1st Amendment protection for corporations.
1933Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee
The people of Florida passed a law that levied higher taxes on chain stores. The Supreme Court overturned the law citing the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Interstate Commerce clause.
1922Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon
Corporations get 5th Amendment “takings clause”: “. . .nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” A regulation is deemed a takings.
1919Dodge v. Ford Motor Co.
Michigan Supreme Court says, “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end.” “Stockholder primacy” is established. This is still the leading case on corporate purpose.
1908Armour Packing Co. v. U.S.
Corporations get 6th Amendment right to jury trial in a criminal case. A corporate defendant was considered an “accused” for 6th Amendment purposes.
1906Hale v. Henkel
Corporations get 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protection. Justice Harlan disagreed on this point: “. . . the power of the government, by its representatives, to look into the books, records and papers of a corporation of its own creation, to ascertain whether that corporation has obeyed or is defying the law, will be greatly curtailed, if not destroyed.”
1905Lochner v. New York
“Lochner” became shorthand for using the Constitution to invalidate government regulation of the corporation. It embodies the doctrine of “substantive due process.” From 1905 until the mid 1930s the Court invalidated approximately 200 economic regulations, usually under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
1893Noble v. Union River Logging R. Co.
For the first time corporations have claim to the Bill of Rights. The 5th Amendment says: “. . . nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
1890Sherman Anti-Trust Act
Sections 7 & 8 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act defined corporations as persons.
1889Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith
Supreme Court rules a corporation is a “person” for both due process and equal protection.
1886Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
“The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.” This statement by the Supreme Court before the hearing began gave corporations inclusion in the word “person” in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and claim to equal protection under law. (The case was decided on other grounds.)
1882The Railroad Tax Cases
In one of these cases, San Mateo County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, it was argued that corporations were persons and that the committee drafting the 14th Amendment had intended the word person to mean corporations as well as natural persons. Senator Roscoe Conkling waved an unknown document in the air and then read from it in an attempt to prove that the intent of the Joint Committee was for corporate personhood. The court did not rule on corporate personhood, but this is the case in which they heard the argument.
1887Munn v. Illinois
Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment cannot be used to protect corporations from state law. They did not actually rule on personhood.
The Supreme Court said: “. . . the main purpose of the last three Amendments (13, 14, 15) was the freedom of the African race, the security and perpetuation of that freedom and their protection from the oppression of the white men who had formerly held them in slavery.” Corporations were not included in these protections.
1868Paul v. State of Virginia
Corporate lawyers argued that under the privileges and immunities clause, corporations are citizens. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are not citizens under Article IV, Section 2. “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.”
1819Dartmouth College v. Woodward
A corporate charter is ruled to be a contract and can't be altered by government. The word “corporation” does not appear in the Constitution and this ruling gave the corporation a standing in the Constitution. It also made it difficult for the government to control corporations, so states began to write controls into the charters they granted. The Supreme Court had “found” the corporation in the Constitution.
1803Marbury v. Madison
This case established the concept of judicial review. The Supreme Court ruled that they were Supreme and Congress did not contest it. This gave them the power to make law.
1791Bill Of Rights
The first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted to protect We the People from excesses of government. At this time, We the People meant only white males who owned property and were over 21 years old. The states decided how much property must be owned to qualify to vote or run for office. (New Jersey women who met property and residency requirements could vote when the Constitution was ratified, but the state revoked that right in 1807.)
The writers of the Constitution were very interested in protecting their property. Without using the words “slave” or “slavery,” they made slavery legal and institutionalized it. “No person held in Service or Labour in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” (Art.4, Sec.2).
1776Revolutionary War Begins