Monday, February 15, 2010

Corporations and Terrorists, They Both Have Rights

I've been kicking around a post on corporate rights for about a week now as a follow up to all the Citizens United reactions, but a thought occurred to me the other day as I read through some of blogger Glenn Greenwald's coverage of civil liberties in the war on terror: Symbolically speaking, corporations serve the same villainous role on the left that terrorists do on the right. And that's not to say that anyone on the left is making an argument of moral equivalency, it's merely an observation from my vantage point about the focus of political energies.

What's fascinating is how the proposed solutions to these problems tend to be equally unconcerned with Constitutional rights. This is, in part, a statement on the relative importance of these issues for the concerned parties, but it's also very telling as to the understanding and respect each side has for the rule of law.

The important thing to understand about Constitutional rights is that they are very specifically not granted by government; they are our naturally occurring rights by our very existence as human beings and government may only act to restrict those rights in the most narrow of circumstances. And this isn't some wacky, limited government libertarian philosophy, this is, or should be the point of view of all folks who don't beleive government has the ultimate authority over individuals.

Terrorists have rights, not because some goofy liberal judge said so, but because all individuals have rights. You can debate the merits of the criminal justice system versus military tribunals all day long, but that debate doesn't change the simple truth that 1- terrorists have a right to challenge their detention in some fashion and 2- each and everyone of us has the right to know the procedures and guidelines for determining just who is a terrorist, something we didn't know under George Bush and still don't know under Barack Obama.

And similarly speaking, the rights of corporations can't be stripped away simply because they are organizations or because their form of organization is derived from statutory law. As I've blogged about before, either corporations have rights, or they don't. That a corporation can't be thrown in jail is irrelevant. Individuals commit crimes, therefore individuals can be thrown in jail. When organizations commit crimes, the burden of proof is on the government to prove the complicity of each and every individual involved in that crime. It's difficult to put corporate CEO's and financial officers in jail for crimes in the same way it's difficult to put mob bosses away. The problem is that the criminal justice protections in the Constitution are designed to protect individuals.

And what does that criminal discussion have to do with speech? The point of that was that the criminal protections of the Constitution are simply irrelevant to organizations because of the requirements of individual protection. But outside the realm of criminal law, corporations, along with every single other form of organization you can think of, are treated in the same manner as individuals. Corporations couldn't do business if they couldn't write checks, sign contracts, or be sued in court. Non-profits couldn't raise money or speak out on important issues if they couldn't be legally treated as individuals. And no organization could exist if they weren't protected by due process rights and the Fourth Amendment protections againast illegal searches and seizures. The biggest myth on the left is that corporate personhood is some sort of plot to grant corporations unnatural powers, when in reality, it's just a legal fiction that make corporations functional in the civil side of our justice system.

Either the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in particular, is a meanigful document that limits the government's ability to restrict our freedom or it's just a piece of paper that doesn't limit the majority from doing whatever it wants to baddies it doesn't like.

5 Comments:

Blogger 皮東 said...

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OpenID sstorm0730 said...

Interesting point of view. As a Libertarian myself, I have to believe that the Constitution IS the ultimate guidepost - not open to political, partisan twisting and turning of the words to suit a political agenda.

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