NLG Committee on Corporations, the Constitution & Human Rights



Mission Statement

In a democratic society, living human beings are sovereign and are the basis of all government authority. The fundamental premise of a democracy is that political power resides and must remain in the hands of the people. Artificial entities such as corporations, which were created for functional purposes¾for example, to produce and provide economic goods¾are vital for any modern society. However, unlike human beings, they are neither intrinsically valuable nor do they have any legitimate claim to share in or be able to avoid democratic sovereignty.

Corporations have in recent decades acquired increasing economic and political power such that they have begun to usurp the powers of government and undermine the principle of democratic sovereignty. The Committee’s mission is to work toward restoring sovereignty in the hands of the people, to put human beings back in charge as they should be in a democratic polity.

To this end, the Committee is committed to exploring legal issues and political strategies related to:

1.            Corporate Constitutional Rights.

We oppose recognition of the personhood of corporations under the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] Protections of the Bill of Rights are given to people out of a concern for human dignity, liberty or equality. Corporate claims to such protections should be rejected except in the rare instance that a persuasive claim can be made that creating and enforcing the corporate right is necessary to make the right meaningful for individuals. In all cases, the corporation's assertion of such a right derives from and is dependent upon the need to protect the rights of individual human beings.

2. Corporate Political Participation

Corporate participation in politics is presumptively illegitimate. Therefore, Bellotti v. First National Bank, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), upholding the right of corporations to use their money to participate politically, should be explicitly overruled to the extent that it has not already been implicitly overruled in Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990). Likewise, new restraints on corporate political participation should be enacted and enforced.

3. Corporate Constitutional Obligations

In all areas in which corporations exercise significant power over people's lives, it is presumptively appropriate to require corporate behavior to meet constitutional norms just as government actors are required to do, as well as to respect fundamental human rights.

Current law rarely imposes this obligation. Because of the type of power a corporation exercises and the authority it receives from the state, corporate actions should (in certain circumstances, at least) be held to constitute state action. 

4. Transnational Corporations and Local Law

Democratic principles require that corporations respect and follow rather than evade the local law of jurisdictions in which they do business, unless that law is violative of fundamental principles of human rights. With increased globalization, this principle becomes ever more significant.

Contrarily, the U.S. government is rapidly moving in the direction of negotiating and endorsing international treaties that would increasingly free corporations from the obligation to comply with local laws. The U.S. government is also using its political leverage¾through trade and investment agreements, the IMF and World Bank, and other means¾to obtain acquiescence from countries whose domestic laws are likely to be overridden, particularly developing nations.

Although international controls over multinational corporations are appropriate, international agreements should not be allowed to free MNCs from the obligations of domestic law.

To achieve these goals and principles, the NLG Committee will undertake debate, study, and other appropriate actions.

Note: This mission statement is very much a work in progress. We hope that those Guild members concerned with these issues will contribute to its further elaboration at the Washington Convention and beyond.  For more information on this committee contact

Eric Palmer

[1] These comments focus on market-oriented corporations (which include satellite advocacy organizations such as Chambers of Commerce and industry associations), as does Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Court has held that there is a constitutional difference between these entities and non-market-oriented, non-profit, advocacy corporations. Cf. FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U.S. 652 (1990).