Corporate First Amendment Rights after Citizens United: An Analysis of the Popular Movement to End the Constitutional Personhood of Corporations
14 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law 209 (2011)
51 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2010 Last revised: 13 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 3, 2010
No case in the Supreme Court’s last term was more controversial than Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (Citizens United). In a sharply divided 5:4 decision, the Court invalidated strict federal campaign finance laws and upheld the First Amendment right of corporations to spend unlimited sums of corporate money to support or oppose candidates in political elections. Although mainstream criticism of Citizens United was fierce and widely publicized, a lesser known response to the case is a grassroots popular movement calling for an amendment to the Constitution establishing that money is not speech and that human beings, not corporations, are the only “persons” entitled to constitutional rights. The movement has ignited a national campaign to reverse the legal doctrine of corporate personhood, a doctrine that has allowed corporations for the last century to claim the same legal rights that natural persons possess. Anti-corporate activist groups revile the dominance of corporate power in modern society and believe now is the time to “overthrow corporate rule.” By orchestrating a nationwide initiative to amend the Constitution, these groups hope to follow in the steps of other social justice movements, like the suffragists and the civil rights activists, who successfully organized to demand legal reform. This Article seeks to bring attention to this burgeoning popular movement and the challenges it faces. The grassroots mobilization of these activist organizations in response to Citizens United raises important questions about the relevance of citizen interpretations of constitutional meaning and the role of law in shaping beliefs. This Article uses the doctrine of corporate personhood and the constitutional amendment campaign as points of departure for a broader analysis of the relationships between social movements, constitutional legal reform, and the expressive function of the law.
Keywords: corporate personhood, constitutional personhood, corporate First Amendment rights, free speech, political speech, campaign finance, Citizens United, constitutional amendment, Move to Amend, social movement, popular movement, popular constitutionalism, expressive law
JEL Classification: K20, K22, M14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation