Corporate Personhood


  1. Introduction to Corporate Personhood
  2. Controversies Relating to Corporate Personhood
  3. In-depth Articles and Resources
  4. Significant U.S. Court Cases in the Evolution of Corporate “Rights”
  5. Our Campaigns and What You Can Do
  6. Groups Challenging Corporate Personhood
  7. Other Initiatives Challenging Corporate Personhood
  8. Complete Index of Corporate Personhood Articles at Reclaim Democracy

Introduction to Corporate Personhood

Our Bill of Rights was the result of tremendous efforts to institutionalize and protect the rights of human beings. It strengthened the premise of our Constitution: that the people are the root of all power and authority for government. This vision has made our Constitution and government a model emulated in many nations.

But corporate lawyers (acting as both attorneys and judges) subverted our Bill of Rights in the late 1800’s by establishing the doctrine of “corporate personhood” — the claim that corporations were intended to fully enjoy the legal status and protections created for human beings.

We believe that corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges we willfully grant them. Granting corporations the status of legal “persons” effectively rewrites the Constitution to serve corporate interests as though they were human interests. Ultimately, the doctrine of granting constitutional rights to corporations gives a thing illegitimate privilege and power that undermines our freedom and authority as citizens. While corporations are setting the agenda on issues in our Congress and courts, We the People are not; for we can never speak as loudly with our own voices as corporations can with the unlimited amplification of money.

Read our draft constitutional amendment to revoke corporate constitutional “rights,”  (published nearly a decade before the Citizens United v FEC ruling). See also Move to Amend’s proposed language.

Read this model resolution to free democracy from corporate control, along with a list of how’s and why’s of resolutions to help you catalyze action in your area.


  1. Our Hidden Corporate History – This overview of the rise of corporate power in the U.S. also is available as a 2-page flier (pdf).
  2. Interactive visual timeline of the history of Corporate Personhood.
  3. Timeline of Personhood Rights and Powers (pdf) – by Jan Edwards

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Current Debates Relating to Corporate Personhood

The Supreme Court’s anti-constitution ruling in Citizens United v FEC sparked two new coalitions to overrule the Court via constitutional amendment: Move To Amend and Free Speech For People (we’re engaged in the former).

An image that speaks for itself. Corporate logo flags now available in 3′ x 5′ size.

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Digging Deeper: Articles, Briefs & Books

Recommended Articles

  1. The Hijacking of the 14th Amendment by Doug Hammerstrom (pdf)
  2. Santa Clara Blues by William Meyers (pdf). Also in HTML format
  3. Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation by Richard Grossman and Frank Adams
  4. Personalizing the Impersonal: Corporations and the Bill of Rights by Carl Mayer. Recommended for lawyers or those interested in a detailed legal history (70 pp html).
  5. When Silence is Not Golden: Negative Corporate Free Speech by Dean Ritz
  6. Abolish Corporate Personhood by Molly Morgan and Jan Edwards.
  7. The PBS program NOW compiled some useful resources on the topic for this 2005 episode.
  8. Court Rules Corporations Enjoy Human Rights, Some People Don’t
  9. Monsanto Claims “Negative Free Speech” Rights Should Preclude Product Labels that Can Harm Sales of its Products

Recommended Books

  1. The People’s Business by Charlie Cray and Lee Drutman
  2. Gangs of America by Ted Nace
  3. Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann
  4. When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten
  5. The Transformation of American Law 1870-1960 by Morton Horwitz (for those interested in detailed legal background). See also Volume 1: 1780-1860.

Note: we often are asked for “the best” book on the topic, but we can’t single out one. All of the above are excellent reads with different strengths (they are listed from most to least recent). Feel free to ask if you seek a specific focus.

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Significant U.S. Court Cases in the Evolution of Corporate Personhood / Commercial Free Speech

  1. Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) – Corporate charters are ruled to have constitutional protection.
  2. Munn v. State of Illinois (1876) – Property cannot be used to unduly expropriate wealth from a community (later reversed).
  3. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) – The substance of this case (a tax dispute) is of little significance, but this fateful case subsequently was cited as precedent for granting corporations constitutional rights. Several articles linked above detail how this happened.
  4. Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad Company (1893) – A corporation first successfully claims Bill of Rights protection (5th Amendment)
  5. Lochner v. New York (1905) – States cannot interfere with “private contracts” between workers and corporation — marks the ascension of “substantive due process” (later mitigated after President Roosevelt threatend to add Justices to the Court).
  6. Liggett v. Lee (1933) – Chain store taxes prohibited as violation of corporations’ “due process” rights.
  7. Ross v. Bernhard (1970) – 7th Amendment right (jury trial) granted to corporations.
  8. U.S. v. Martin Linen Supply (1976) – A corporation successfully claims 5th Amendment protection against double jeopardy.
  9. Marshall v. Barlow (1978) – The Court creates 4th Amendment protection for corporations — federal inspectors must obtain a search warrant for a safety inspection on corporate property.
  10. First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) – Struck down a Massachusetts law that banned corporate spending to influence state ballot initiatives, even spending by corporate political action committees. Spending money to influence politics is now a corporate “right.” Justice Rehnquist’s dissent is a recommended read. Related articles: Ballot Initiatives Hijacked / Behind the Powell Memo
  11. Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Comm. of NY (1980) – This oft-cited decision concerns a state ban on ads promoting electricity consumption.
  12. Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) – Upheld limits on corporate spending in elections.
  13. Thompson v. Western States Medical Center (2002)
  14. Nike v Kasky (2002) – Nike claims California cannot require factual accuracy of the corporation in its PR campaigns. California’s Supreme Court disagreed. The U.S. Supreme Court took up the case on appeal, then issued a non-ruling in 2003. See our comprehensive archive on this case.
  15. Randall v Sorrell (2006) While this case dealt with the legality of Vermont’s contribution limits, not corporations directly, it carried important implications for corporate political influence, as Daniel Greenwood detailed in our amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  16. Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010). In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overrules Austin and a century of federal legislative precedent to proclaim broad electioneering rights for corporations.
  17. Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General of Montana The U.S. Supreme Court overruled Montana’s Supreme Court ruling, which had upheld a challenge to the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering.

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Campaigns to Revoke Corporate Free Speech

The 2010 Citizens United v FEC decision has generated the most interest in years. See our home page for recent updates, along with Move To Amend, a coalition launched in 2010 to overrule the Court ( is a coalition partner).

This campaign dates back to the 2003 Nike v Kasky court battle — one of the highest profile court cases to date regarding “corporate free speech.” We have preserved the large body of material we produced and collected relating to this case (settled out of court after the U.S. Supreme Court passed on any substantive ruling) here.

We used Nike to advance public understanding and legal arguments against granting corporations constitutional rights. Our work included filing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, doing talk shows and placing op-eds around the country, and direct actions.

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Groups Challenging Corporate Personhood

  1. Move to Amend has developed a network of more than 100 chapters across the U.S. working toward a constitutional Amendment to revoke corporate personhood.
  2. Free Speech for People
  3. The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy -helped inspire the work of many other organizations listed here, ours included.
  4. Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County – works at the community level in California. DUHC and the preceding two groups were party to an amicus brief in the 2009 CU v FEC case (press release here).
  5. Alliance for Democracy
  6. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – does notable work to revoke corporate power and is the source for two of the initiatives listed below.
  7. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  8. The American Independent Business Alliance – counters the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s unrelenting push for increasing corporate political power. Why? Here’s an overview.

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Initiatives Challenging Corporate “Rights”

  1. Pennsylvania Township Passes Ordinance Rejecting Corporate “Rights” — a First in U.S. – report on the Porter Township Ordinance
  2. Non-binding resolutions have been passed in Point Arena and Arcata, CA and, most recently, in Berkeley, as a symbolic stand and educational tool.
  3. Anti-corporate Farming Law – this Nebraska law is one of several such state laws denying corporate “rights” in agriculture.
  4. Party Platform Planks Opposing Corporate Personhood – Washington state’s Democratic Party was the latest state political party we’re aware of to officially oppose corporate personhood — a tactic that lends itself to being used in almost any locale. Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Maine have passed similar policies.

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Purchase one of our corporate logo flags (the American flag with corporate logos in place of stars), to illustrate your objection to corporate personhood and raise awareness of the issue.