When Monsanto’s home state of Missouri passed the “Right to Farm” on August 5, 2014, the third noose of corporate control tightened around the neck of the United States. Unlike the first two steps of corporate domination of public life, this was a constitutional amendment that would block the state legislature or voters from passing future laws for environmental protection, animal welfare or labeling of contaminated food. This third wave corporatocracy could well spread across US and globally as it becomes a new form of mass disenfranchisement.
First wave: corporate ‘personhood’
State constitutional amendments are the most recent phase in a long march of corporations to extend their direct control of government. Efforts of corporations to grab the legal rights of persons date to the post-Civil War ear. In the late 1880s the US Supreme Court first applied the rights of the 14th Amendment to corporations. That amendment had been ratified in 1868 in order to grant former slaves “equal protection under the law.” As Jane Anne Morris documents in Gaveling Down the Rabble (2008), the court became far more interested in applying it to “corporate persons”, granting them the right to “privileges and immunities, equal protection, and due process”.
This flew in the face of the fact that corporations are created by legislative bodies and must incorporate in order to receive their powers and privileges. After the initial rulings, legislative and judicial bodies in the US expanded laws and rulings that enhanced corporate power. In 1938, Justice Hugo Black wrote of court decisions that “less than 1/2 of 1% invoked it in protection of the Negro race, and more than 50% asked that its benefits be extended to corporations”.