Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The New Corporate America

More than 50 years ago, on January 17, 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against the growing power of the military-industrial complex.

How have we done since then?

Big corporations have only become more powerful. They don’t advocate for direct governance; they don’t want that headache. What they want is to control the governors through the use of the pocketbook. And they’re succeeding.

For decades, they tried to convince the courts that corporations are people, and they finally achieved their goal in 2010 in Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court said corporations have the same right to speech as living persons.

Some will argue that the protected speech is for “associations” of people and not corporations, but this is akin to the magician’s deception when he waves his right hand while pocketing the ball with his left. The end result is that corporations can now use their vast wealth to influence elections and further their agenda even if many of their shareholders disagree with their decision.

From this case was born the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, which stated that corporations now have the right to exempt themselves from laws that violate their religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby says that corporations – constructs of the state – have religious rights even though they’re not real persons. And the Supreme Court agreed. Why? Because Hobby Lobby is a conservative Christian company whose founders’ views echo those of Justices Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas – and to a lesser extent, Kennedy.

Can you imagine if a conservative Muslim company had tried to claim a religious exemption from following a law that most Christians supported? The Supreme Court wouldn’t even have heard the case.

These decisions are abominations, to be sure. But they are not the end. They’re the beginning. What’s next?

Corporations will push to avoid penalties imposed by the government for illegal actions. They’ll claim that fines which impose more than a minimal burden are excessive and a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. And under this court, they’ll win.

Then they’ll attack the government under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, asserting that they must be provided due process before the government can regulate them more harshly than they want to be regulated. The regulations, they will claim, amount to a taking.

Don’t believe me?

Look at Kelo v. City of New London, where the Supreme Court held that a city could use eminent domain to take away a private landowner’s property and give it to a private developer even though the landowner didn’t want to sell. Yes, the landowner eventually got paid. But that’s not the point.

What’s troubling about this case is that some normally liberal Justices sided with the city, including Ginsburg, Souter and Breyer. The dissent, including Justices Scalia and Thomas, argued that this would allow the rich to take from the poor, which is exactly what is happening, though not in as open a way as occurred in Kelo.

And what about that Kelo property? What kind of fabulous development occurred there? Why, it’s a vacant lot.

My point is that the Supreme Court will twist any argument, any law, to ensure the continued health of corporate America. It has been so for decades and it will continue until we elect officials who are true populists, true believers that people are more important than companies.


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