PERSONS, what they are or are not (at least according to the Roberts Court)

Las Cruces Sun News 04/29/2014, Page A04



Roberts Court has unique views on persons, money and speech

By Dan Townsend

Guest column

The Roberts Court has produced interesting decisions, including that corporations are “persons” and money is speech.

Take for instance the “persons” argument. Logic would tell you that being a “person” has something to do with being a human being.

Not so fast. U.S. law has conferred “personhood” on, besides corporations: governmental bodies, such as cities and counties; foreign governments suing in U.S. courts; any party having a claim against an estate; and, amazingly, certain slaves! The twist here is that, (though they were normally considered a form of “livestock” in pre-Civil War southern states) slaves attained “personhood” under the law if the slave was “capable of committing a riot in association with white men” (this last definition an interesting form of negative emancipation). (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, 1856). Sadly, slaves other than those mentioned, though “freed” in stages through 1867, were not accorded full “personhood citizenship” until it was given their descendants by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The artificial “persons” mentioned above may have some advantages over human persons, such as immortality. For example, corporations, originally formed for specific short-term projects such as financing a cargo of slaves or sugar, never seem to die — changing their names (Phillip Morris to Altria, for example); ownership, as their stock is bought and sold; as well as their nationalities, as assets, production and markets render national boundaries invisible.

Money is another matter. Since the Roberts Court has determined that money is speech, how about terrorism— considered by various students of the phenomenon to be a lethal form of “political speech.”

Justice Roberts specifically stated at one point that speech designed to incite terrorism was only a problem if it was coordinated with a “foreign” terrorist organization (FTO). His statement would appear to suggest that speech designed to incite terrorism, if emanating from purely domestic sources, is protected by the First Amendment.

As this is written, news of the latest in a long chain of murderous outrages by Klan members surfaces in a peaceful community near Kansas City. “Speech” at the point of a gun. How many armed “sleeper cells” and neurotic individuals are there around the U.S. poised to act in a similar way — triggered by the “incitement” previously mentioned?

Getting back to the money/ speech nexus, TomPerkins, an outspoken advocate for the “rights” of the super-rich, suggested that a person should have as many votes as he pays dollars in taxes. I suppose that Mr. Perkins’ reasoning is that the poor who pay little or no taxes should have no right to vote or a say in public affairs.

The irony is that Perkins’ argument only works when you have a progressive tax system— which the rich and their advocates in Congress are aggressively trying to get rid of.

His other problem is that, in my experience, the richest in every country use every trick in the book to avoid paying taxes anyway — eliminating the advantage he seeks.

The avalanche of oligarch money in coming elections, freed by the Roberts Court in the Mc-Cutcheon decision, would appear to make ordinary voter participation irrelevant — not to mention other restrictions on voter access proposed by primitive thinkers at various levels of government.

Without voters, who will select our future leaders — those with the most guns or the most money? Will it matter?
Dan Townsend is a traveler, working and learning in various states and countries, presently enjoying the variety of cultures in the borderland. Occupational areas have included MerchantMarine; photographic technology; defense and air traffic control (communications). Presently involved in real-time energy management technologies and occasional contributions to the local dialogue on important issues.


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