When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision last year many attacked the decision as an absurd extension of the legal fiction of corporate personhood. In his now-famous dissent Justice Stevens snarked that the ruling paved the way for a host of private rights for corporations that had traditionally and legally been reserved only for actual persons.
Yesterday the Court corrected course just a bit in ruling against AT&T’s attempt to block disclosures under a Freedom of Information Act request by asserting a “privacy” right against self-incrimination.
But despite finding that corporations do in fact have speech rights, this time the Court clarified that corporations are not “humans” and therefore have no “personal rights” when it comes to privacy.
It wasn’t a small correction either. The unanimous decision made it clear that AT&T could not avoid any potentially embarrassing or even criminal disclosures by asserting a personal privacy right.
The Court also took the time to clarify that while corporations are considered “persons” under the law, a “person” is not always a “person” when dealing with privacy interests. According to the Court, “personal” can mean more than just of the person the same way “corny” can mean more than just “of corn.”
Showing a now-consistent comedic flourish in his opinions, the Chief Justice concluded by hoping that AT&T would not take their ruling “personally.”
While it is unlikely that the criticism of the decision bore any direct weight on this particular ruling, it is good to see the Court set some boundaries in terms of “corporate rights.” Clearly citizens are concerned about the scope, reach and influence of corporate power. To that end this is a decision that can help bring some sanity back into corporate personhood jurisprudence.
photo courtesy of ElectronicFrontierFoundation via Flickr