The Hobby Lobby Decision: Back To Slavery or Unto Socialism?
Consider the following two passages from the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision:
“Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”
“ … no conceivable definition of “person” includes natural persons and non- profit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.”
These mean that corporations are to be treated as persons, with rights protected under the constitution; and, corporations exist to protect the rights of the humans who own and control them. The quotes essentially imply that,
Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held persons thus protects the constitutional rights of the persons who own and control them.
This decision is clearly about protecting the rights of persons who own and control other persons.
By opening the door through declaring that corporations, as persons (artificial or natural), have rights enumerated under the U.S. Constitution, they challenge the rights of natural persons. This occurs since a right that is denied a corporation, as a person, can be denied to other persons, including humans. One of these rights is the right of not being owned. This right stems from the 13th amendment, banning slavery, since to be a slave is to be owned by another person. The decision, as elaborated, opens the door for Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. to sue its owners for civil damages (for being treated as a slave), and for the government to seek criminal charges against those owners. Indeed, one could argue that the ACLU, or other civil rights organizations, have a duty to pursue this in order to protect our society from falling back into institutionalized slavery. Consider that the Supreme Court based their decisions in the 1880’s on corporate personhood (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, and Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania) on the 14th amendment, intended to protect equal rights to newly freed slaves. It might even seem a quid pro quo, allowing slaves to have full rights in exchange for allowing corporations to have the same rights. It also underscores how morally bankrupt the American corporate economic system has become. It would be as if a slave owner told his slave to commit a crime, and it was the slave (and not the slave owner) who bore criminal responsibility while the slave owner received all the pecuniary benefits.
This also leaves the Supreme Court in a bind. The constitutionally sound approach, based on precedent, would be to expand the rights of corporations, which would mean the emancipation of corporations. However, this would topple our economic system, since it is the ownership of corporations that is expressed in the buying and selling of equities in the stock market.
Such emancipation may seem a very unlikely outcome, for two competing yet complimentary reasons:
1) Fiscal Conservatives would not want to risk the U.S. economy, due to the massive wealth lost when corporations can not be owned.
2) Social Liberals would not want corporations to have exactly the same rights as humans citizens.
On the other hand, it would be difficult for the court to overturn its own decision (imagine SCOTUS attempting to make a decision on whether corporations have the right not to be treated as a slave!). So, how do we give rights, but not all rights, to a person? An alternative might end up looking like the three-fifths, or the Missouri, compromise.
Another difficult question arises: does a corporate lawyer protect the rights of the corporation, or of the people who own the corporation? Clearly, corporations continue to exist while its ownership changes hands. If corporations now have religious liberty why must the corporations’ religious beliefs be considered identical to its owners? Why would we believe that a corporation has any beliefs other than atheism? Again, it seems like a slave owners mentality: I own you, so your faith must be my faith. It is easy to imagine that if the owners of a corporation can say what the corporation’s faith is, they can also say that employees must also act consistently with such faith as well. The failure to emancipate corporations can easily lead America back to de facto slavery, where humans are just considered a biologically structured corporation.
However, if the seemingly impossible occurs and corporations are emancipated, then the Federal government will be in a position to protect the rights of these corporations, not for the benefit of its owners (as there will be none) but for the benefit of society (at least as the government construes “society”). This would be a big move in the direction of socialism. People can still become wealthy, but not through corporate ownership. The movement of financial capital will be through bonds, and income through wages, interest and royalties alone. Moreover, if corporations are found guilty of crimes, based on the 13th amendment they can essentially be owned by the state. It also means that employees of a corporation, even as high up as a CEO or president, can’t own shares of the corporation. Their compensation may still be much greater than the average worker, but would have to be paid as salary/bonus and benefits, as shares in the corporation will no longer be available. In essence, socialists should applaud the emancipation of corporations. How ironic that a court seemingly supporting conservative capitalism, might actually bring about its downfall through their own ideology!!
While all the attention of the decision has been on the increased difficulty of receiving reproductive healthcare, the potential loss of rights of employees, and the possibility of religious tyranny at the work place - all legitimate concerns- the bigger issue of whether capitalism survives and whether we return to slavery or step into socialism seems to be completely missed. It should be no surprise, in the 18th century the concern was whether persons can be considered property, now we are dealing with whether property can be considered persons. A fool and his money are quickly parted, unless, of course, money is treated as that fool.