Are corporations people? With the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, declaring that corporations have the same rights to free speech as we do, I decided to get a corporation’s viewpoint about his personhood. I interviewed a typical corporation which we shall call Publius. We met in my office recently for the following question and answer session:
The Corporation that mistook itself for a person
MH: Good morning, Mr. Publius. Thank you for coming today. Would you mind giving us a little of your background?
PB: Certainly. I was born on May 5, 1887 when the Supreme Court in a wonderful case, The Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad, said that I was a person with all the rights that you have. I am wealthy beyond measure. I have political connections that you couldn’t dream of and I am powerful.
MH: As you know many Americans are upset about the recent Supreme Court decision saying that you have the rights of free speech. Would you comment on that?
PB: Let me say at the outset that free speech is the least of my worries.
MH: What do you mean?
PB: Recently, I have become despondent and am beginning to question who I am. You might say that I am going through an identity crisis. It has recently come to my attention that certain unscrupulous individuals, such as this infamous Mel Hathorn, are questioning my personhood. Some of their arguments have filled me with confusion and have put me in quite a quandary.
MH: Could you clarify?
PB: Certainly, Hathorn and others said that I can’t be a person because the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery, that is ownership by other people. They say that because I am owned by stockholders, I am either a slave which is prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment or the Santa Clara Decision is unconstitutional. This argument has caused me no small amount of anxiety. I have been thinking of going for a few stress management classes or into therapy.
MH: How are you handling this?
PB: Not very well. I have been noticing that as a public corporation I have been losing different body parts. Just yesterday, I lost my right hand to someone in Paris for 1500 shares.
MH: I’m confused. What do you meant that you lost your right hand?
PB: Just that the value of 1500 shares is the value of my right hand. Since this idiot Hathorn came along I realized that I left my heart in San Francisco, my liver in London, and my spleen in Chicago. I am being bought and sold, sliced and slivered, and dissected and dissed on the auction block. In short, I am in pieces.
MH: Wow! I almost feel sorry for you.
PB: I don’t know what to do! (At this point, Publius stands and starts pacing) Who am I? Am I a person or not?
MH: I know that as a professional writer I should not offer advice; however, in this case I can suggest that you might seek therapy. Perhaps this will help you come to terms with your limitations.
PB: (Agitated and waving his hands wildly, he begins ranting and raving)
I am a corporation. Hath not a corporation eyes? Hath not a corporation hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a human is?
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And, if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we shall resemble you in that.
MH: (Speaking carefully because I was beginning to think Publius had delusions of grandeur I said.) I am afraid that none of what you just said is true . I strongly suggest that you seek help.
PB: (shouting and screaming) You are just like all those other idiots!
At that point I realized that I had an out-of-control corporation. There was only one thing to do. I called 911 and shortly thereafter several men in white coats entered. After a brief scuffle they led a shackled Publius to the ER for evaluation and possibly commitment
The long winding lane was covered with cracking autumn leaves as my car wended slowly up the hill toward the large brick institution. After parking in a visitor’s spot, I entered through large wooden doors and approached the reception desk. A dour, hefty receptionist greeted me with a surly expression.
“May I help you?” she snarled.
“Yes, I am here to see Publius,” I answered.
It had been six months since Publius had been committed. I had heard through the grapevine that he had made significant progress and depending on the outcome of a review board, he could be released today. I was visiting him to wish him good luck in his sanity hearing which would be held this afternoon.
“First, you will have to be cleared by his Psychiatrist,” she answered. “I’ll let him know you are here. What is your name?”
“Mel Hathorn,” I answered.
She frowned. “Well…I don’t know if Dr. Macintire will want you to visit him. I understand that the patient still gets a little agitated at the mention of your name.” She picked up the phone and buzzed Dr. Macintire. “Doctor, there is a Mr. Hathorn to see Publius.” She nodded and after a short pause directed me to a small office down the hall.
Entering a small office, I saw a short little man seated behind a desk. He stood and greeted me with an out-stretched hand. “Have a seat,” he said, “Would you like some coffee?”
“No thank you. I’m good.”
“Normally,” he said, “I couldn’t allow you to meet with Publius because of his deep-seated hostility toward you. In this case however, I suggested to Publius that you two meet because it will help him deal with his deep anger and rage toward you. With his sanity hearing coming up, it would be to his advantage to try to overcome his fury. By confronting his anger, he’ll overcome it and act more appropriately.”
I looked around the office. In one corner I saw a bale of hay with a bullseye on it. The bullseye had several bullet holes and slash marks. My picture sat in the middle of the bullseye with a hatchet sticking out of it.
A poster on the wall with my picture had words like “slimeball, sleaze, bottom feeder” and a variety of other uncomplimentary expressions.
Dr. Macintire noticed me staring at the target and the poster. “Part of his therapy was venting and displacing his anger. I hope you aren’t offended.”
“Not at all. Tell me. How are his delusions coming along?”
“Well, we are still working on that. He still believes he’s a person just like you and me. However, we feel we can handle those issues on an outpatient basis. I’ll call him in and let’s see how he handles himself.”
The office door opened and in walked Publius. He hadn’t changed much since I last saw him. He still looked like an adult version of Sponge Bob Squarepants. His head and torso were combined in one unit. His skin appeared covered with a red rash that reminded me of the shingles.
His hair was kinky and curly and sat on his head like several satellite dishes. His eyes were long rectangular windows with a balcony in front of them. Behind the windows a gleam of what appeared to be flickering fluorescent lighting.
At the bottom of the torso, a large mouth opened and closed like the large doors of a modern office building. Many security gates stood behind the doors, almost as many as the teeth of a baleen whale.
His arms were the most amazing part of this apparition. Two gigantic wings containing several offices spread out at right angles from his torso. His elbows formed another right angle making a large U in front of him. His legs were wide columns that created a parking lot under him.
Publius muttering under his breath something that sounded like, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”
“Well Publius,” said Dr. Macintire, “we want to see how you are handling your feelings right now. How are you feeling?”
“Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”
“Very good,” said Dr. Macintire. “Why don’t the two of you take a walk around the grounds and try to see how you get along? See if you can work out your differences.”
It was a beautiful day outside. As we walked over the lush green lawn, Publius kept muttering his mantra. His eyes flickered like fluorescent lights burning out their ballasts. Unfortunately, his girth prevented him from seeing the ground directly in front of him. He failed to see a hoe with the blade laying upward in front of him.
Publius stepped on the blade and the hoe sprung up and whopped him in the head leaving a knot the size of a baseball. He ground his teeth and swept his winglike arms back and forth as he muttered through clenched teeth, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”
We sat on a bench facing a small lake. He sat on the edge of the bench his back toward me. I broke the silence. “I understand from Dr. Macintire that you are about to leave hear this afternoon. I came to wish you good luck and I hope that your hearing goes well.”
He folded his arms as much as one could with two office wings and again muttered, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”
“Are you beginning to realize that you are not a person?” I asked.
It was clear that he was simply going along with the program to get out. At that point I made a serious mistake. “You know, there are reasons other than the Thirteenth Amendment that disqualify you from being a person,” I added. “There is the Fourteenth Amendment as well.”
“What the hell do you mean?” His mouth was pinched and white with rage. He pursed his lips.
“Well, let me try to explain,” I answered. “The Fourteenth Amendment has the ‘equal protection clause’ in it. That means that under the Constitution, you and I have equal access to the law and its protections.”
“OK, What’s your point?”
“You see in 1954,” I answered, “the Supreme Court said that ‘separate but equal’ was unconstitutional.
“However, as a corporation, in reality you have many more resources to the courts, political people and the legal system than I do. You have more money, political access and power than me. This is a violation of the ‘separate but equal’ clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is clearly a situation where I am discriminated against. This is clearly unfair to me as a person and it is a case of segregation.
“In other words,” I continued, “although you and I in theory have the same access to the law and its protections, in reality, I am segregated and discriminated against because of your superior resources.”
At this point I stood. Because Publius was sitting on the edge of the bench and because the bench was unanchored to the ground, my standing caused the bench where he was sitting to tilt almost on end. Publius slid off the bench into the pond.
His hair sizzled and crackled as the satellite dishes shorted out. His eyes momentarily blackened and his emergency generators took over as he stood and plodded toward me screaming and howling.
“What a piece of work I am, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable I am, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! I am the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…” He picked up the hoe and swung it. He seemed a little upset.
Earlier I had learned that when Publius quoted the Bard, he was really losing it. As I ran for the safety of my car, I glanced up at Dr. Macintire’s window. He stood watching the sad scene shaking his head sadly.