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In Citizens United, the Supreme Court not only equated money with speech, it said that corporations have the right of free speech as persons do.  The recent factory fire in Bangladesh got me thinking more about corporations with the same rights and responsibilities and citizens.  If we follow Citizens United to its logical conclusions, where will it take us?

I began with some definitions of "corporation."

From Investopedia:

A legal entity that is separate and distinct from its owners. Corporations enjoy most of the rights and responsibilities that an individual possesses; that is, a corporation has the right to enter into contracts, loan and borrow money, sue and be sued, hire employees, own assets and pay taxes.  

The most important aspect of a corporation is limited liability. That is, shareholders have the right to participate in the profits, through dividends and/or the appreciation of stock, but are not held personally liable for the company's debts.

Read more:

an association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members. See also municipal corporation, public corporation.
1. Firm that meets certain legal requirements to be recognized as having a legal existence, as an entity separate and distinct from its owners. Corporations are owned by their stockholders (shareholders) who share in profits and losses generated through the firm's operations, and have three distinct characteristics (1) Legal existence: a firm can (like a person) buy, sell, own, enter into a contract, and sue other persons and firms, and be sued by them. It can do good and be rewarded, and can commit offence and be punished. (2) Limited liability: a firm and its owners are limited in their liability to the creditors and other obligors only up to the resources of the firm, unless the owners give personal-guaranties. (3) Continuity of existence: a firm can live beyond the life spans and capacity of its owners, because its ownership can be transferred through a sale or gift of shares.

Read more:

The sentence that seems to me most relevant is the first characteristic in the definition:   Legal existence: a firm can (like a person) buy, sell, own, enter into a contract, and sue other persons and firms, and be sued by them. It can do good and be rewarded, and can commit offence and be punished.

So a corporation has the same rights regarding business as a person, separate from its owners.  But if we extend rights to corporations unrelated to business, such as speech, and change the definition of speech into its corporate equivalent of money, do we also extend responsibilities unrelated to business?

For example, can a corporation commit and be tried for criminal acts as well as civil?  

If a person possesses anything stolen, for example, they are guilty of possessing stolen goods whether they knew it was stolen or not.  If a person knows of a crime about to be committed and does nothing to stop it, they are considered an accessory to that crime, up to and including murder.

Can a corporation also be guilty of these crimes?

Can Walmart and other firms doing business with the burned out clothing factory in Bangladesh be accessories to murder if they knew in advance of the dangerous conditions in that factory?  Can they be tried as such?

Do they also carry the same liability to the civil equivalent, wrongful death?

I have no legal training, and my mind sometimes makes strange connections.  These questions are really questions, and legal responses are most welcome.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, a2nite

    Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

    by ramara on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 10:54:31 AM PST

  •  ramara - BP, the corp, plead guilty to (4+ / 0-)

    numerous criminal statues as part of their deal with the DoJ. Arthur Anderson was driven out of business due to just being indicted for criminal conduct. So yes, corporations can be subject to criminal liability. I am sure that Walmart, Gap, Sears, and the many corporations who had clothes made at the plant that caught fire will be sued in civil court. However, there is no way that in US courts, and under US law, there will be any criminal liability for those corporations who had products being manufactured in the plant that had the tragic fire. If Walmart owned the plant, and the workers who died were Wallmart employees, it might be different, but this was a sub-contractor of a sub-contractor.

    Just to clarify the SCOTUS have from time to time, including under Citizens United, noted that corporations have some of the same rights as people. However, even in CU the Court went to some length to distinguish between "human persons" and "associations of persons" and that the respective rights are not the same in all cases.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 11:23:47 AM PST

  •  Corporations and people of great wealth are (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    immune from the law, while the rest of us, are not immune. We are a nation of little or no justice. Justice is just an illusion.

    Hope has a hole in it when Republicans come, bringing shackles and sorrow; branding their greed on the backs of the poor. - Wendy Connors

    by Wendys Wink on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 02:42:54 PM PST

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