An Introduction to Corporate Personhood

Under the doctrine of "corporate personhood," corporations are recognized as having some of the same fundamental rights as human beings. This may sound strange at first. After all, nowhere does the Constitution mention corporations. However, the United States Supreme Court has been embracing—and expanding—corporate personhood for a very long time:

The last two cases, in particular, have been extremely controversial in legal scholarship and media. Has the Supreme Court given too many individual rights to corporations? Should corporations have these rights? Or should they be reserved for humans? 

Although law professors and political pundits have certainly voiced their opinions copiously, only very recently has any research been conducted regarding how the general population feels about corporate rights.

The Psychology of Corporate Rights

Professor Aziz Huq of the University of Chicago Law School, Professor Moran Cerf of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Dr. Tali Mentovich of UCLA’s Psychology of Social Justice Lab have conducted a study titled “The Psychology of Corporate Rights.” It is the first paper to survey how people feel about corporate personhood. The paper has yet to be published, but a working copy can be found here.

The authors conducted three studies. First, a study on whether people deem companies deserving of the fundamental right of religious liberty. This study had 111 participants. Second, whether people deem companies deserving of the fundamental right of privacy. This study had 150 participants. Third, whether people deem companies deserving of the fundamental right of free speech. This study had 100 participants. The authors describe their findings this way:

Our results demonstrate that people are significantly and consistently less willing to grant the same scope of protection to companies versus people, particularly if these companies are for-profit large corporations. This tendency persisted among both liberals and conservatives.

The authors then note that “[t]his strong and consistent result suggests one reason for the magnitude of the public outcry after Citizens’ United and Hobby Lobby. Indeed, our results may understate the gap between elite judicial and popular preferences.” According to the authors, “Taken together [our] results indicate that, psychologically speaking, individuals (and not corporations) are the appropriate recipients of rights.”

In other words, this new study confirms that corporate personhood is an area where the United States Supreme Court is diverging dramatically from popular opinion.

It is the Supreme Court versus the people.

Which side are you on?

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