Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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Civil Liberties Issues

Real Democracy: Corporations and the Bill of Rights


Our Bill of Rights was the result of tremendous efforts to institutionalize and protect the rights of human beings. It strengthened the premise of our Constitution: that the people are the root of all power and authority for government. This vision has made our Constitution and government a model emulated in many nations.

But corporate lawyers (acting as both attorneys and judges) subverted our Bill of Rights in the late 1800's by establishing the doctrine of "corporate personhood"—the claim that corporations were intended to fully enjoy the legal status and protections created for human beings.

Unfortunately, in our "democracy" the average person has less democratic power than the average for-profit corporation. While citizens' rights are being taken away by counterterrorism law and policy, corporations are gaining power.

Corporations and National Security Policy

The federal government frequently contracts with private corporations, such as Lockheed Martin and Halliburton, to enhance defense and homeland security. For instance, Accenture recently contracted with the DHS to develop technology systems for US-VISIT, a program that has been heavily criticized by privacy advocates. The contract could be worth up to $10 billion dollars over the next decade. Corporations also play a role in passing legislation that will promote their interests, often at the expense of civil liberties. For example, the for-profit prison industry was instrumental in writing and passing the controversial SB 1070 passed in Arizona in 2010. Additionally, corporations have benefited from the Iraq War. For more information, read David Nordberg's Corporations are the Only Winners in Occupation of Iraq.

For an in-depth analysis of how corporations benefit from national security policy, read the November 2001 edition of the Multinational Monitor: Corporations and National Security.

Corporate Immunity, Legal Responsibility

In a May 22, 2003 Executive Order, President Bush granted legal immunity to oil companies operating in Iraq. For more information, read EarthRights International's legal analysis of the order or this Common Dreams article. The legal immunity of corporations involved in defense and national security is also a major obstacle for redressing Constitutional Rights violations that occur at corporate prisons.

There are means to hold corporations legally responsible for violating international human rights. For information on a lawsuit charging corporate involvement in Iraqi prisoner torture, see this fact sheet from the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Another contentious area of corporate rights is "commercial speech" protected by the First Amendment. For an idea of some of the issues facing this area of the law, read Democracy v. Corporate 'Free Speech' by Jeffrey Kaplan and Jeff Milchen.

Corporations and Privacy Rights

Corporations continue to gain power and influence in the United States, often at the expense of individual privacy rights. In June 2011, the Supreme Court ruled against a state law in Vermont that banned the buying and selling of prescription records.  The court’s ruling will allow pharmacies to sell prescription records to data-mining companies, who then sell records to drug companies. In this case, the privacy of patients and doctors has been compromised to the benefit of corporations. To learn more about this case, read Supreme Court Hands Drug Companies Twin Wins

With this background, BORDC believes it is important for Americans to envision a way to create real democracy, a democracy where people are the source of the government's authority. While this task is admittedly not an easy one, it is crucial to the survival of our civil rights and liberties.

Democracy Resources and Links

Writers whose work addresses corporate power as a threat to democracy: