Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Corporate Personhood

I'm always a bit perplexed by folks who object to corporations being considered legal persons.  It is plain that these folks generally don't know what a "legal person" is.

Any entity that can sue, be sued, own property, enter into and carry out contracts, hire or pay employees, or be taxed is a "legal person," at least to the extent that it can do these things.  That is the long and the short of it.  There is no such thing as a non-blood-and-guts-human legal entity that can do any of these things without legal personhood, as the ability to do any of these things is what makes one a legal person.

I think some people fixate on the term itself, and the word "personhood" especially, without understanding it. Those who do not understand "legal personhood" imagine, entirely without basis, that "legal personhood" grants the "legal person" the honor and dignity afforded to a "person" in the ordinary sense.  Thinking that "legal personhood" somehow "legally" grants all legal persons certain honors and dignities, and the legal right to be just as respected as any blood-and-guts person, these unknowledgable persons are, naturally but misguidely offended.  They then protest and say that we must deprive corporations (a concept which is also generally misunderstood by such persons) of this "personhood."

At the heart of their error is the fact that, the legal sense of "personhood" carries along with it neither honor nor dignity.  Funny-enough, some kinds of blood-and-guts persons who are commonly believed to be deserving of additional respect and protection, namely children, are less legal persons than corporations, and rightly so.  
If 5 year-olds were full legal persons, that would mean that one could sue them, get a judgment against them, execute the judgment against them, and have them thrown in jail for contempt for failing to show up to court or respond to discovery requests; and do all this directly and not via a parent.  If the child was a full legal person, it would in fact be illegal for a non-lawyer parent to hire a lawyer for the child or directly manage the child's case.  It is the child's reduced legal personhood that protects the child.

1 comment:

Keep Life Simple said...

Noah. I think it is goofy for legal entities to have personhood status. You cannot put Enron in prison... You put Enron execs in prison! Now, I think owners of companies should be able to use their companies to pursue owner's ambitions (sue, express political views, hold property for ownerrs, etc). But a corp is not a people or person.