In her first appearance as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor questioned the concept of corporate personhood, which endows corporations with constitutional rights that persons enjoy.
The Wall Street Journal reported, regarding the oral arguments over Citizens United, that “Justice Sotomayor went further, suggesting that the court’s error was not in upholding limits on corporate speech, but its far earlier decisions that first granted corporations the legal status of persons.”
The text of the relevant portion of the oral argument is below.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Going back to the question of stare decisis, the one thing that is very interesting about this area of law for the last 100 years is the active involvement of both State and Federal legislatures in trying to find that balance between the interest of protecting in their views how the electoral process should proceed and the interests of the First Amendment.
And so my question to you is, once we say they can’t, except on the basis of a compelling government interest narrowly tailored, are we cutting off or would we be cutting off that future democratic process? Because what you are suggesting is that the courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth
to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court’s error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.
But we can go back to the very basics that way, but wouldn’t we be doing some more harm than good by a broad ruling in a case that doesn’t involve more business corporations and actually doesn’t even involve the traditional nonprofit organization? It involves an advocacy corporation that has a very particular interest.