This is the first in a series of three articles discussing how the American people have lost a great deal of their sovereignty, and thus their freedoms, since the creation of the Constitution.
Sovereignty is defined as having supreme authority or jurisdiction over a geographical or judicial area. The American people, slowly over hundreds of years and three major incursions, have lost a great deal of the sovereignty that protected their freedoms. As their areas of sovereignty have been eroded, so too have their civil rights, often without them even realizing. This has directly correlated with a decline in the standard of living for the average American, and a widening of the wealth disparities that have caused a great deal of social chaos.
The three major areas that the American people have essentially lost control over are; their monetary system, their security apparatus, and corporations. The monetary system was taken from the people when the Federal Reserve became the de facto authority on currency creation, thereby giving control over monetary policy to a privately owned corporation. Recent revelations that the NSA keeps secrets from the elected government show that the NSA is autonomous and unaccountable. This has resulted in a loss of diplomatic and foreign policy sovereignty. Finally corporations have gained many of the rights of people, allowing them to sue governments for creating laws that reduce profits, including future profits. This has resulted in local and state governments fearful to legislate in the best in interests of their people, for fear of lawsuits from affected corporations. This loss of judicial power is debilitating to governments, preventing them from reacting to changing situations.
Working chronologically it makes sense to start with the gradual rise of the Corporate Personhood. In 1819 the United States Supreme Court (USSC) ruled in Dartmouth College versus Woodward that a charter was a contract. This was exactly the opposite of the original intent of the Founding Fathers, who had conceived them as charters only, not contracts, and certainly not protected by the same constitutional protections that guaranteed the freedoms of the people. The early corporations were typically municipalities, not businesses, because the Revolution was fought not only against Britain, but against the British East India Company, the Hudson Bay Company, and the Massachusetts Bay Company. Large corporate businesses were not seen to be compatible with freedom by the Founding Fathers.
In 1886 the USSC case of Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad, it was established that corporations have 14th amendment constitutional protections, which gave the right to due process and equal protection under the law. Thus corporations could now sue other corporations, people, and governments. It was cited as a precedent for the Citizens United ruling. The next year the USSC ruled in Mugler versus Kansas against Mugler, who claimed that the outlawing of the sale of alcohol by the state of Kansas had destroyed the value of the brewery that he had built only a few years earlier, at considerable expense. He wanted compensation for the lost value of the brewery (which could not easily be converted to another use), but the court ruled that the state had the right to create laws that sought to protect the health, welfare, safety or morals of the people.
In 1919 Dodge versus Ford Motor Company the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the purpose of a corporation was to maximize profits for its shareholders, rather than serve in the best interests of society, as businesses had been viewed previously. The case involved the inventor of the assembly line, Henry Ford, who was sued by the Dodge brothers, who together owned 10% of the company. Ford wanted to provide excellent salaries and expand the business with new factories in lieu of giving out dividends, and the Dodge brothers were unhappy with his charitable nature. The courts ruled with greed over social well-being, and corporations grew immensely because of it.
In 1922 Pennsylvania Coal Company versus Mahon the USSC gave corporations the right to sue governments for compensation for lost profits (called takings) that resulted from new laws, including future profits. Mugler vs Kansas had settled the issue about whether the government could be sued for takings, ruling that they could only be sued if the state physically seized property, and that any regulations regarding the land was seen as the responsibility of government to protect the health, safety, welfare and morals of the people. This new ruling completely contradicted the ruling made thirty-five years earlier. It not only gave the green light to businesses that they could ignore the public interest, but it also put pressure on legislators to ignore the public good for fear of deep pocketed lawsuits.
In 1976 Buckley versus Valeo rules that the right to donate to political causes is the same as speech, and therefore protected under the first amendment. It also protected the idea of limits to donations given, but not on how much a campaign can spend, or whether there are limits to how much an individual can spend in support of a candidate (no limits). This brings us to Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commision in 2010, the case that ruled that money is speech, for all intents and purposes. Does that make bribery conversation?
Each of these cases has slowly eroded the sovereignty of the American people, whose representatives fear to act in the interest of their constituents because powerful corporate interests threaten them with lawsuits for doing anything that hurts their bottom line, be it laws intent on reducing pollution, tougher immigration enforcement, improving worker standards as new data comes in, tightening restrictions on gun sales, and a host of other issues that governments seem paralyzed in dealing with.