In her maiden Supreme Court appearance last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a provocative comment that probed the foundations of corporate law.
During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.
But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.
Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."
If this is a real hint of her views on this matter than I think we have to applaud. Even if it doesn't change the ultimate ruling in this particular case, it is still good to have a new Justice who questions the corrupt foundation of law regarding the relationship between corporations and the government.
Of course, some people's heads started steaming when they heard her talk about the Santa Clara decision being a "mistake".
"I don't want to draw too much from one comment," says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it "doesn't give me a lot of confidence that she respects the corporate form and the type of rights that it should be afforded."
The linked article has a very good background on the history of Corporate Personhood. It even mentions the little discussed (outside liberal circles) fact that the original court case on this matter (Southern Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County) did not actually address this issue but instead that the whole foundation of "corporations are people" argument were the results of an off hand remark by the then chief justice that was written down by the court reporter as if it were part of the official decision.
Justice Kennedy, however, is not so enlightened:
On today's court, the direction Justice Sotomayor suggested is unlikely to prevail. During arguments, the court's conservative justices seem to view corporate political spending as beneficial to the democratic process. "Corporations have lots of knowledge about environment, transportation issues, and you are silencing them during the election," Justice Anthony Kennedy said during arguments last week.