Berkeley Becomes Latest U.S. Municipality to Oppose Corporate Constitutional “Rights”

Last updated June 16, 2004

Members of our San Francisco Bay Area chapter spearheaded a campaign that culminated on June 15, 2004 with passage of this resolution by the Berkeley City Council. Berkeley is the third California municipality to pass such a resolution, following Arcata and Point Arena. The resolution does not carry immediate legal consequence, but has served as a valuable education and organizing tool to advance debate over the appropriate role for corporations in a democracy. It also provides an important tool to influence future municipal decisions.

The strategy of passing local and state resolutions has been used with great effect in more than 300 jurisdictions to build support for defending constitutional rights and stop expansions of the so-called Patriot Act. The spread of local resolutions or, even better, binding ordinances opposing illegitimate corporate privilege, also can lead to larger change. See bottom of page for further resources.

Berkeley Resolution on Corporate Constitutional Rights

WHEREAS, Chapter 3.68 of the Berkeley Municipal Code, which contains the initiative ordinance creating the Peace and Justice Commission, sets forth several functions of the Peace and Justice Commission, including, but not limited to, “(A) Advise the Berkeley City Council on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice, including, but not limited to support for human rights and self-determination throughout the world; (B) Help create citizen awareness around issues of social justice [and] (C) Help develop proposals for the City Council in furtherance of the goals of peace and justice, and help publicize such actions in the community;” and

WHEREAS, under the United States and California Constitutions, all sovereignty resides with “We the People,” such that people hold all inherent political power and government derives its power from the consent of the governed; government is created by the people and for the people for our health, safety, and welfare; our system of government is a representative democracy, through which the people govern; and “We the People” are entitled to inalienable constitutional rights to wield against oppressive governmental regulation; and

WHEREAS, “corporation” is not mentioned in the United States Constitution; our founders did not grant corporations rights; rights were reserved for natural people; historically corporations were created as artificial entities, chartered by state governments to serve the public interest, cause no harm, and be subordinate to the sovereign people; and yet by judicial interpretations, corporations gained personhood status, free speech and other protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment; and

WHEREAS, with “corporate personhood” and First Amendment rights, corporations dominate the political process and interfere with citizens’ control over our government as follows: corporations lobby our legislative and regulatory bodies; with the Supreme Court’s assertion that money is a form of free speech, corporations spend vast amounts of money to influence elections; and by virtue of their enormous wealth, corporations wield much more influence over our government and over the media than do “We the People”; and

WHEREAS, this corporate influence is transforming our government from one that is “by and for the people” to one that is by and for corporate interests; corporate influence over our government denies citizens our right to govern through a representative democracy and subjects us to minority rule by the wealthy few; and corporate influence has made it difficult to maintain a living wage, a clean environment, affordable health care, and quality education for all; and

WHEREAS, the citizens of the City of Berkeley consider it to be our sovereign right and civic duty to recognize that corporations remain artificial entities created by the people through our state legislatures; hope to nurture and expand democracy in Berkeley and in our nation; and reject the concept of corporate constitutional rights based on “corporate personhood” or any other factor.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Berkeley supports amending the United States and California Constitutions to declare that corporations are not granted the protections or rights of persons, and supports amending the United States and California Constitutions to declare that the expenditure of corporate money is not a form of constitutionally protected speech.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council directs the City Manager to send a copy of this Resolution to our state and federal government representatives including: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Majority and Minority Leaders of the California Senate Don Perata and James Brulte, California Assemblymember Loni Hancock, United States Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, and United States Representative Barbara Lee.

* For more on the Berkeley resolution, contact PhoeBe at: phoebeso”@t”
* To learn more about our Bay Area chapter, contact Kirsten at: sfpersonhood”@” or 1-866-280-1409, ext 600.
* Tips on passing passing a local resolution (large pdf file designed to print at 11 ” x 14″ for brochure. Thanks to Jan Edwards).
* The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund also are excellent resources.