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Natural rights for fictional persons


Published:   |   Updated: July 22, 2014 at 11:46 AM

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I can understand why conservatives are thrilled at the Supreme Court’s contentious 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It satisfies their fixations on so many levels.

It jabs a finger in the president’s eye. It puts another dent in Obamacare. It promotes sectarian Christian creed contravening the First Amendment’s Separation Clause. It deprives women of the full range of guaranteed reproductive health coverage. And it further entitles the ownership class buttressing the illusion that, in the words of that champion of plutocracy Mitt Romney, “corporations are people, my friends.”

Here’s a level it doesn’t work on, and conservatives who aren’t appalled are not worthy of the name because this is clearly an abrogation of the constitutional “originalism” they so cherish. As Chief Justice John Marshall observed two centuries ago, a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible and existing only in contemplation of law.” Now, these man-made contrivances have been extended “unalienable rights” never envisioned by the Founders or previous courts.

In 2010, in Citizens United the court ruled corporations have the right to free speech and equated such speech to unlimited political donations. In Hobby Lobby the court has expanded the notion of corporate personhood by declaring privately held companies can hold religious beliefs. So, are corporations that — or should the adjective now be “who” — don’t object to the contraceptive clause in health care insurance coverage atheists?

Incorporation already shields owners and officers from personal responsibility for corporate shenanigans, financial transgressions and shoddy products that those of us not registered in Delaware don’t possess. Now, when it’s convenient, executives also get to exploit their corporate cover to impose their personal prejudices.

It was fitting that Associate Justice Samuel Alito spoke for the court. Alito, who comes off as more humanoid than human, mechanistically delivered the majority opinion giving his fellow “artificial persons” rights that persons who actually show emotion don’t enjoy. “Natural persons” don’t get to annul federal law because of what they believe.

Alito wrote: “The purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees.” Except that it doesn’t. Clearly, only the owners’ rights were protected by diminishing the rights of women employees. Funny, Hobby Lobby doesn’t have a “faith” problem when it comes to buying much of its schlock from China, which condones inhumane labor conditions and has performed an estimated 330 million state-mandated abortions over the last 35 years.

This is back-to-the-future justice. Substitute lunch counter for corporation, Negroes for female employees and sodas for contraception and Alito and the other conservative justices have thrust us right back into the 1960s. What’s to stop the next closely held corporation that conscientiously objects to gays and the non-religious from firing them?

Any rights corporations possess stem solely from the act of government chartering them to own property, negotiate contracts and trademark products; essentially the means to conduct business, not to conduct life.

As the saying goes, I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.

Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.

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