Corporate personhood in America: where corporations are people, and because of that, they enjoy the same rights that you and I do as, well, actual living and breathing people.  (Absurd, but true.)

We see its effect in politics every day — unlimited campaign donations, opened up by the disastrous Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, polluting our political system more than it already is.  Today we want to shed some light on how corporations want the best of both worlds — the ability to enjoy the benefits of personhood when it comes to campaign spending, but when it comes to other legal concerns (like murder or human rights violations) they want to be protected by their corporate status against such liabilities.

If you need an example of this backwards behavior, look no further than the Supreme Court docket itself. One of the biggest and weirdest cases to come before the bench in recent years, Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The big debate in that case is over the correct interpretation of international law when it comes to corporate liability in suing corporations.

Here are the facts. A dozen Nigerians claim that Royal Dutch and two Shell subsidiaries worked with the Nigerian government to torture and kill anti-oil activists.  Royal Dutch claims they can’t be sued for such things (torture and murder) because they are a corporation, not a person.

“Now wait just a gosh darn second,” you’re probably saying. “Didn’t the Supreme Court decide two years ago that corporations have the same right to free speech as I do? So they get to do that, but don’t have to have to be held accountable for, oh, murdering someone?”

As Mike Sacks at The Huffington Post explains:

At least in theory, they do: Under Anglo-American law, corporations have long been considered legal persons subject to suit. But the 2nd Circuit in Kiobel held that this country’s history of corporate liability is irrelevant when it comes to a founding fathers-era statute that allows foreign nationals injured by “a violation of the law of nations” to sue in U.S. courts.

The court said that no corporation has ever been held liable for human rights violations under international law — that is reserved for actual individual human beings only.

This is what makes us Mad as Hell.  Big business wants to have it both ways.  They’re people when it benefits them to secretly purchase our government to preserve their business, but they’re not people when they want to use murder as a mechanism to preserve their business.

Watch as Dylan talks with John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech For People, a national non-partisan campaign working to end corporate personhood, and Mike Sacks, Supreme Court correspondent for The Huffington Post who wrote an excellent piece on corporate personhood here

– Meg Robertson is a digital producer for  You can catch her on Twitter @megrobertson.