Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law

Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law
By JESS BRAVIN
WASHINGTON — In her maiden Supreme Court appearance last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a provocative comment that probed the foundations of corporate law.

During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court’s majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

Sonia Sotomayor

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong — and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

“Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions,” said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

“I don’t want to draw too much from one comment,” says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it “doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that she respects the corporate form and the type of rights that it should be afforded.”

For centuries, corporations have been considered beings apart from their human owners, yet sharing with them some attributes, such as the right to make contracts and own property. Originally, corporations were a relatively rare form of organization. The government granted charters to corporations, delineating their specific functions. Their powers were presumed limited to those their charter spelled out.

“A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible,” Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1819 case. “It possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it.”

But as the Industrial Revolution took hold, corporations proliferated and views of their functions began to evolve.

In an 1886 tax dispute between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the state of California, the court reporter quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite telling attorneys to skip arguments over whether the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause applied to corporations, because “we are all of opinion that it does.”

That seemingly off-hand comment reflected an “impulse to shield business activity from certain government regulation,” says David Millon, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

“A positive way to put it is that the economy is booming, American production is leading the world and the courts want to promote that,” Mr. Millon says. Less charitably, “it’s all about protecting corporate wealth” from taxes, regulations or other legislative initiatives.

Subsequent opinions expanded corporate rights. In 1928, the court struck down a Pennsylvania tax on transportation corporations because individual taxicab drivers were exempt. Corporations get “the same protection of equal laws that natural persons” have, Justice Pierce Butler wrote.

From the mid-20th century, though, the court has vacillated on how far corporate rights extend. In a 1973 case before a more liberal court, Justice William O. Douglas rejected the Butler opinion as “a relic” that overstepped “the narrow confines of judicial review” by second-guessing the legislature’s decision to tax corporations differently than individuals.

Today, it’s “just complete confusion” over which rights corporations can claim, says Prof. William Simon of Columbia Law School.

Even conservatives sometimes have been skeptical of corporate rights. Then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist dissented in 1979 from a decision voiding Massachusetts’s restriction of corporate political spending on referendums. Since corporations receive special legal and tax benefits, “it might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere,” he wrote.

On today’s court, the direction Justice Sotomayor suggested is unlikely to prevail. During arguments, the court’s conservative justices seem to view corporate political spending as beneficial to the democratic process. “Corporations have lots of knowledge about environment, transportation issues, and you are silencing them during the election,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said during arguments last week.

But Justice Sotomayor may have found a like mind in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights,” Justice Ginsburg said, evoking the Declaration of Independence.

How far Justice Sotomayor pursues the theme could become clearer when the campaign-finance decision is delivered, probably by year’s end.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A19
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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And here’s a link to Stephen Colbert’s video bit, “Corporations Are People Too”:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Let Freedom Ka-Ching
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Protests


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Run A Free BitTorrent Tracker On Google!

by Ernesto on September 10, 2009
With both the Pirate Bay and OpenBitTorrent trackers down at the moment, many people are unable to download torrents unless they enable DHT. Luckily there are a few backup trackers that people can use, and thanks to Google’s free App Engine, everyone can setup a tracker of their own in a few minutes.

In their defense, operators of BitTorrent sites often argue that they do nothing more than Google does. They offer a search platform for people to find content on the web, specifically torrent files. To a certain extent they are right, Google can be used to find torrent files in several ways.

For example, the mother of all search engines has a special search command that allows you to find torrent files scattered across the Internet.

Google’s custom search also allows everyone to create their own torrent search engine, and Google’s App Engine enables users to start a free torrent search engine for free by using Google’s servers.

It is quite clear that there are several ways to find torrents through Google. However, just finding torrents is not enough. In order to download content through BitTorrent successfully, one also needs a working tracker in order to locate those all-important peers. Luckily Google can help here too.

By using Google’s App Engine, everyone can run a tracker without having to invest a single dime in hardware or bandwidth. The only problem is making the tracker compatible with the App Engine, but thanks to the newly released Atrack software it is a piece of cake to set one up.

The Atrack Bittorrent tracker is designed to run on Google App Engine and its main goals are a minimal memory use, speed, low bandwidth usage and efficient CPU use. On top of this the tracker wont store any data at all, making it as secure as possible for its users.

“Atrack also aims to respect your privacy: other than what is needed for the most basic tracking, Atrack gathers no information whatsoever. Beyond that no aggregate statistics are kept of anything, and nothing is stored permanently anywhere, not even hashes and ip/ports,” the Atrack team writes.

So now everyone can set up a standalone BitTorrent tracker at no cost aside from the the time it takes to set things up. The Atrack software is released into the public domain, and a test tracker is up and running on Google’s App Engine.


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Yes, National Review, We Did Execute Japanese for Waterboarding

Yes, National Review, We Did Execute Japanese for Waterboarding
By Paul Begala | Huffington Post

In a CNN debate with Ari Fleischer, I said the United States executed Japanese war criminals for waterboarding. My point was that it is disingenuous for Bush Republicans to argue that waterboarding is not torture and thus illegal. It’s kind of awkward to argue that waterboarding is not a crime when you hanged someone for doing it to our troops. My precise words were: “Our country executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime we are now committing ourselves.”

Mr. Fleischer, ordinarily the most voluble of men, was tongue-tied. The silence, rare in cable debates, spoke volumes for the vacuity of his position.

Now Mark Hemingway of the National Review Online has asserted that I was wrong. I bookmark NRO and read it frequently. It’s smart and breezy — but on this one it got its facts wrong.

Mr. Hemingway assumed I was citing the case of Yukio Asano, who was convicted of waterboarding and other offenses and sentenced to 15 years hard labor — not death by hanging. Mr. Hemingway made the assumption that I was referring to the Asano case because in 2006 Sen. Edward Kennedy had referred to it. (Sen. Kennedy accurately described the sentence as hard labor and not execution, by the way.)

But I was not referring to Asano, nor was my source Sen. Kennedy. Instead I was referencing the statement of a different member of the Senate: John McCain. On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St. Petersburg, Florida, said, “Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was waterboarding.”

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times’ truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), scrutinized Sen. McCain’s statement and found it to be true. Here’s the money quote from Politifact:

“McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then as ‘water cure,’ ‘water torture’ and ‘waterboarding,’ according to the charging documents. It simulates drowning.” Politifact went on to report, “A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in labor camps.”

The folks at Politifact interviewed R. John Pritchard, the author of The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Complete Transcripts of the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. They also interviewed Yuma Totani, history professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and consulted the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, which published a law review article entitled, “Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts.” Bottom line: Sen. McCain was right in 2007 and National Review Online is wrong today. America did execute Japanese war criminals for waterboarding.


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