Corporations are indeed people (but animals still aren’t)
Chimpanzees beat humans (and corporations) at many intelligence tests
Presidential contender Mitt Romney got hooted down on the campaign trail in Iowa when he insisted that “corporations are people, too.” He tried to explain what he meant, but the crowd wasn’t buying it. For those who feel overtaxed and under-represented, corporations aren’t people; they’re impersonal monsters gobbling up profits and spewing out pollution.
But, factually speaking, Romney was correct. As far as the legal system is concerned, a corporation really is a person. In 1886, the Supreme Court recognized corporations as being “persons” under the Fourteenth Amendment, and this gives a corporation many of the same legal rights in court as individual humans have – including, for example, the right to file a lawsuit.
By contrast, not all humans have always been recognized as “persons.” Slaves, for example, were not considered “persons” until a landmark court case in England in 1772 set the first legal precedent by establishing that James Somersett, a young man who had been captured in Africa and taken to America, was not a “thing” but a “person.”
For a long time, children were also not recognized as persons. That meant they had no legal standing, and therefore no legal rights. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was finally and formally adopted as international law, entitling all children to certain basic rights including the right to survival, to protection from exploitation, and to respect for the views of the child.
Today, all humans are recognized as being “persons” in the sense of having certain basic legal rights that must be recognized in court. We still argue over whether unborn babies are persons and whether they have the same rights to survival. But once you’re born, you’re a person.
It’s true, too, as Romney stated to his audience, that a corporation is legally viewed as a person.
But to this day, no non-human has ever been recognized as a person.
A video, currently going viral on the Internet, shows an orangutan in a zoo, sitting by a pool on a hot day with a washcloth in her hand. She dips the washcloth in the pool, carefully wrings it out, then dabs it on her face to cool down. Then she dips it back in the water, wrings it out again, and dabs her face some more. When she’s finished, she wipes the side of the pool with the washcloth, just like any other house-proud person might do on the kitchen or bathroom counter.
Orangutans, like chimpanzees and gorillas, have complex brains and experience deep emotions. They understand each other’s minds, live in organized societies, transmit wisdom and culture to their young, use sophisticated communication, solve difficult problems, and mourn the loss of their loved ones.
Just like us humans.
And you only have to see the profound interactions between Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee in the movie Project Nim and the humans with whom he’s raised, and by whom he’s then abused, to have little doubt that he’s as much a “person” in his own way as they are.
If our justice system can view a corporation as a person, perhaps one day it will be able to see at least some of our fellow animals as persons, too.