Capitalism (5th)

A Good Faith Mistake Or Deliberate Legal Corruption?

Corporations used to have privileges, not rights.

In 1886 the Supreme Court seemed to decide a case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, in a way that gave corporations the same rights as persons.

Corporations are not real persons, born of a biological process.

They’re artificial legal constructions.

So, why did the Court reason as it did?

It didn’t.

J. Bancroft Davis, lawyer, diplomat, former president of a railroad, was in service to the Supreme Court as a court reporter while the above cited case was before the court.

One of his duties was to write what are called headnotes for Supreme Court cases. 

Headnotes summarize key points used by the court in rendering its decision, and are the court reporter’s personal interpretation of the case not official opinions of the court.

Lawyers use headnotes as a sort of “Spark Notes” to quickly review arguments and court judgements.

Before the above cited case, according to the Bill of Rights + the Fourteenth Amendment to The Constitution, corporations, among other entities, had privileges. 

Persons had rights.

The distinction is important.

Davis wrote a falsified summary in his headnotes:  “The defendant Corporations are persons within the the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to The Constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This legal creativity raised corporations from the ranks of the merely privileged to the ranks of real flesh-and-blood persons having actual rights.

Corporate rights were not even at issue in the trial!

Davis’ “creativity” perverted the intention of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This went unnoticed.  His fantasy headnotes were cited in later cases, thus acquiring the status of precedent law.

So corporations exist in society with the rights of real persons, but without the moral constraints that typically govern their conduct.


Disclosure:  I’m not a lawyer.  I have no political or financial interest in posting this article.  The foregoing is my opinion based on research.

 

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