Vermont Considers Ending Corporate Personhood

On the one year anniversary of the Citizens United decision Vermont lawmakers introduced a measure to revoke the granting of personhood rights to U.S. corporations.  It’s a calculated push back against a particular strain of 14th Amendment jurisprudence and raises some interesting questions.

The idea of corporate personhood is a fairly well-established point–see, for example, Metropolitan Life Ins. Co v. Ward which engrained the idea that corporations are “persons” for purposes of 14th Amendment analysis.  But a “person” for purposes of 14th Amendment analysis is not the same thing as a “citizen”.  That might seem like a fine point important only to lawyers, but the implication is that corporations do not typically enjoy the privileges and immunities afforded citizens (Western and Southern Life Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization of California.)

This point got completely confused as a result of the Citizens United decision which held that, as a result of corporate personhood status via the 14th Amendment, corporations also enjoy First Amendment protections and can therefore spend unrestricted amounts of money as political speech.

States that have pushed back against this influence have typically done so by tightening corporate disclosure laws, essentially forcing “daylight” into the books so that shareholders and consumers know which candidates receive the largesse of a particular corporation.  As witnessed with the campaign against Target, for example, those disclosure laws have success in whipping up outrage but perhaps

Vermont’s tactic is unusual in that it goes right to the heart of the legal fiction of corporate personhood.  If it is successful it will likely face legal challenge and run right up against the supremacy clause.  But forcing the issue is important, especially given the exuberance of the Roberts Court with regards to corporate interests at the expense of all else.  And if other states follow suit we could be witnessing the beginning of a campaign for constitutional change that has some legs. 

photo courtesy of dougtone via Flickr


Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil5 years ago

"Ruth left a comment
Vermont Considers Ending Corporate Personhood


If that really happens then no one will ever be able to sue a corporation in court!!

Ruth R.
Ruth R.5 years ago


Rose N.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil5 years ago

"A note about the McDonalds lawsuit - it was not frivolous. The lady had 3rd degree burns, and McDonalds and others had been through other complaints and injuries."

I did not notice anyone say the lawsuit was frivolous. But One would think there is a reasonable expectation that it is hot. But I seriously doubt that there were third degree burns. That is the worst level of burn logged. "Burn, third degree: A burn in which the damage has progressed to the point of skin death. The skin is white and without sensation." Were coffee ever that hot you would not be able to drink it!

valerie g.
valerie g.5 years ago

hello, beautiful people! go, vermont! we are on the right track. if you consider that the corporate, military and media monopoly and manipulation of our minds, our money, and our lives is generated by a mere 2000 "people", and you consider that "WE THE PEOPL"E are 7 billion strong, you realize this is the biggest apartheid being perpetrated on a PLANET. wake up, act up, live out loud, and keep up the good fight! the "patriot act" "homeland security" BS, it's all George Orwell's nightmare come true. the solution is EASY. be the light! live from your heart. BE HUMAN. we will win.... we already are....:)

Doug D.
Doug D.5 years ago

Thank you Vermont!

Deidra H.
Deidra H.5 years ago

A note about the McDonalds lawsuit - it was not frivolous. The lady had 3rd degree burns, and McDonalds and others had been through other complaints and injuries. The case was complicated and amazing she had won against that huge corporation - yes, McDonalds was able to appeal, etc. I believe in reform of the system to guard against bad lawsuits against small businesses and especially to reign in corporate power - thay are not people - todays corporations are heartless robots for their shareholders!

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil5 years ago

"So correct me if I'm wrong. When you want to sue a business, you sue the owner of the business. If you want to sue a corporation, you sue the corporation because it has "personhood", and the CEO's, Board of Directors, etc. have no responsibility for what the "corporation" does and can't be sued? It's very hard to sue a big corporation if you aren't another big corporation or the government, so real people don't have much recourse against a corporation because of its personhood?"

Ok! You are wrong! Don't you remember grandmom getting millions from McD's for spilling hot coffee in her own lap?
There is a measure of protection for the owners of a corp. But it still does not completely isolate them. You may sue multiple parties. But with a corp the corp is the one that acts, though others may have an interest in that action.
When you run a sole-proprietorship, it is all hanging out there on the line!

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil5 years ago

"". . . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established." -- Justice Stevens, in dissent, in Citizens United v. FEC. 1/21/2010"

And that is why they do not get to vote!!!

David K.
David Kubiak5 years ago

Good ref for this initiative: the classic 2004 WBAI show entitled "Saying Hello and Goodbye to the Corporate Person" - It features the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Kevin Danaher, Thom Hartmann and David Korten's first corporate conversation, Jan Edwards, et enlightened anti-corporatist al. Still grimly funny, instructive and relevant after all these years (alas), Re rampant corporate bestiality, also see "Are Corporations Really Alive?" - the conference: and the manuscript: