Fwd: [FoRK] corporate personhood and the death penalty (was: [Pigdog] Civil war ...)

Ken Meltsner meltsner at gmail.com
Thu Nov 4 16:10:11 PST 2004

Damien asked, so I tracked down Hightower's article on the corporate
personhood precedent:

So where do we get today's assumption that a corporation is fully
entitled to the constitutional rights of the American people? It was a

The mistake came in the writing of a "headnote" to the U.S. Supreme
Court's 1886 decision in an obscure tax case called Santa Clara County
v. Southern Pacific Railroad. (I'll not burden you with any minutiae
from this case, which involved, of all things, the county's right to
tax some of the railroad's fence posts).

As Hartmann details in Unequal Protection, the railroads pushed hard
in this unheralded case to get the court to rule that corporations
have equal taxation and other human rights under the Fourteenth
Amendment. Chief Justice Morrison Waite, a failed Ohio politico and
former railroad lawyer, seemed a likely bet to do the corporate
bidding—but he did not. The court decided in favor of Southern Pacific
on the mundane fence-post matter, but it specifically dodged the
immense issue of personhood. It held no open court discussion about
it, wrote no opinions mentioning it, and rendered no judgment on it.

But a court reporter, J.C. Bancroft Davis (a former railroad
official), wrote the headnote to the decision—a headnote being a
summary of the case, for which reporters like Davis received a
commission from the publisher of these legal documents. Davis's lead
sentence declares: "The defendant Corporations are persons within 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.

More information about the FoRK mailing list