In the famous constitutional law case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886, which “establishes” the personhood of corporations, the Supreme Court Justices offered no written opinion on the subject. However, a Court Reporter, writing headnotes (summary) to the case, inserted the claim that the Court had decided corporations were persons.

And that claim still stands as law today.

Bet you thought I was being ironic in my headline, didn’t you.  Alas, no.  It’s true.

During oral arguments about the case, the Chief Justice dismissed hearing any arguments against personhood, stating, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment . . . applies to these corporations.  We are all of the opinion that it does.”

Refusing to entertain opposing arguments?  Sounds like a Third World dictatorship rather than the US Supreme Court.

Headnotes to a Court decision have no legal standing.

Nor do oral arguments.

Court Reporters have no authority to write laws.

Only the written opinion of the Supreme Court determines the law of the land.  Yet the Court never wrote anything about  corporate personhood in their 1886 decision.  Still, the legal fiction of corporate personhood persists into the 21st Century.  That baby’s got legs!

Under the veil of personhood, corporations claim and get equal protection under the Fourteenth, First and Fourth Amendments.

The Fourteenth Amendment makes no mention of “persons.”  It reads, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”   It’s a pretty big leap to conflate the word “citizen” to mean “corporation”.

First Amendment rights to free speech invoked by corporations have protected the right of corporations to increase spending on advertising for children despite warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics about the harm to children.

It’s protected corporations’ rights not to speak, thus permitting them to withhold key points of information from customers and consumers.

The Fourth Amendment was instituted to prevent a repeat of the violation caused by the British Dragoons’ breaking into Colonial homes and unreasonably searching and seizing property.  Today it protects corporations from health and safety inspections.

It also protects corporations from random inspections by the EPA Dragoons, making it impossible to enforce meaningful anti-pollution, health, and safety laws.

Not to worry.  Life as we’re trying to understand it will continue, becoming less and less understandable.

We’ll adjust.

We’ll make changes in our expectations and aspirations to accommodate our diminished significance.

And the corporations will help us make the adjustment to a government of the profit, by the profit and for the profit.

In fact, I just heard that a group of them are rewriting and renaming Our Town.

The new name is Their Town.



  1. Scary! Thanks for the background education!

  2. Sad. Almost demoralizing. But I appreciate your optimism.

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