Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Railroads become legal persons

A political article, Corporate Citizenship: How Public Dissent in Paris Sparked Creation of the Corporate Person with no references to primary sources talks about the history of the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads and the birth of the legal notion of corporations as persons.

What in that article discussing legal history is true and what is false?

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]


Blogger Robert Bowdidge said...

Google the case "Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific Railroad", and you'll find plenty of references to the original decision and its results. West's Encyclopedia of American Law, a summary in the Santa Clara County court history, Nolo Press's summary of famous decisions, Wikipedia, etc.

I didn't search long enough to figure out if the Citizens United decision specifically cited the Santa Clara case, but a similar 1978 case (FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI) explicitly stated that:

"It has been settled for almost a century that corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886); see Covington & Lexington Turnpike R. Co. v. Sandford, 164 U.S. 578 (1896)."

Sounds like the article's reasonably correct about the legal history.

10/13/2011 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you. But the thrust of the article is not just about the case law, but makes detailed but unproven claims about corruption, stating: "The only thing more corrupt than the legal concept of corporate personhood is the way a Gilded Age judge birthed it."

The bill of rights was added to the constitution to make explicit intended limitations on federal power in an attempt by the founding fathers to prevent the government from oppressing people, as they had experienced under King George. So claiming that applying some of the same exact limitations on government power to oppress businesses is inherently "corrupt" seems more an anti-capitalistic political assertion than a matter of law. Since the author's strong anti-business rights advocacy makes it clear that the author is not objective, it becomes important to know if the claims about improper influences and how supposedly a "corrupt ... Gilded Age judge birthed" corporate personhood are supported by primary sources or are perhaps instead leftist propaganda intended to incite an unjustified hatred of businesses.

But no sources are cited to support claims of corruption. So it becomes hard to tell what is true about alleged corruption and important to know.

Can the corruption alleged be proved beyond a reasonable doubt from primary source evidence? By a preponderance of the evidence? Or are the claims merely myths, rumors, and innuendo unsupported by primary source evidence?

The burden of proof is entirely on the person making the claim of corruption. If solid evidence is lacking then the charge must be disbelieved.

10/13/2011 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article misstates the legal history. I found it odd that the authors cited every case but the crucial 1888 case, so I looked it up on Westlaw. The uncited 1888 decision is Pembina v. Pennsylvania. When I read it, I figured out why they didn't tell us what the case was:

1. The quote that the authors attribute to Justice Field is actually part of the syllabus, which they correctly note earlier is not part of the decision.

2. Justice Field's opinion *never* cites Santa Clara at all.

If you want to check it out for yourself, it's at and click on "full text of case".

10/14/2011 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Full Text of Case:

10/15/2011 1:18 AM  

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