The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has long deliberated whether a corporation is a “person” in the U.S. Constitution. However, according to Dr. Wm. Dennis Huber (“Dennis”), professor of Forensic Accounting and Business Law at Capella University, SCOTUS has failed to sufficiently answer a crucial qualifying question - what constitutes a “person” in the Constitution?
In a recent article published in The International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse titled “Law, Language, and Corporatehood: Corporations and the U.S. Constitution,” Huber argues that a failure by SCOTUS to define “personhood” in the Constitution using “critical linguistic analysis” has led to a convention of treating corporations as “persons” with regard to select parts of the Constitution, which he believes should not be the case.
In the below interview Huber discusses the flaws he sees in the Court’s approach to determining the validity of corporate personhood and why he believes SCOTUS should abandon the use of “corporate personhood” and replace it with “corporatehood” instead.
Why do you think discussions on the status of corporations with regard to the Constitution have been misdirected by the Supreme Court?
DH: In an 1844 ruling, the Supreme Court held “a corporation created by a state…seems to us to be a person.” Ever since then the Supreme Court has cut-off any debate about whether a corporation is a person, thereby forcing not just the legal profession, but the entire population, to accept that a corporation is a person thus misdirecting the discourse concerning corporations.
You argue that before asking if a corporation is a person we should ask “what is a person in the Constitution” - can you explain this?
DH: How can the Supreme Court say a corporation, or anything, is a person in the Constitution without first defining what is a person? How do I know it is a person in the Constitution? Just because the Court says so? Unacceptable. The Court must prove it is a person.
You say that in cases where the Supreme Court has ruled that a corporation is a “person” in the Constitution, it has distorted the rules of English grammar and syntax. Can you give an example?
DH: An example of violating rules of English grammar and syntax is found in its use of an adjective, “corporate,” to describe “person.” Just as “fictitious” is an adjective that is used to describe “person,” so to “corporate” is an adjective used to describe “person.” Yet, the Supreme Court has transformed it into a noun “corporate person.”
In what ways do you argue that the Supreme Court has disregarded its own principles of statutory and Constitutional interpretation when it comes to determining the “personhood” of corporations?
DH: The Supreme Court’s canons of statutory and constitutional construction are the starting point for interpreting a statute or the Constitution is the language of the statute or Constitution itself. (Consumer Product Safety Commission et al. v. GTE Sylvania, Inc. et al., 447 U.S. 102.) In ruling that a corporation is a person, the Supreme Court never started by interpreting the Constitution thus violating its own canons of construction.
Can you explain why you think SCOTUS should abandon the use of “corporate personhood” and adopt the term “corporatehood” in its place?
DH: SCOTUS should abandon the use of the term “corporate personhood” and similar terms because the term itself is nonsense. It has no meaning. It is at best an oxymoron. It is deceptive and manipulative because it forces us to accept as a reality that a corporation is a person when it is not and never can be. Rather than “corporate personhood” the Court should adopt the term “corporatehood” which does not have the connotation that a corporation is a person.