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February 26, 2012

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I agree with you, Jonathan, but I don't think Citizens United was based on the idea that corporations are people, but rather that the right to free speech applies to groups of people (such as corporations and unions) as well as to individuals themselves, and that the government cannot block certain speech based on its source. As I interpret it, it says that corporations and unions are mechanisms through which individuals speak, not persons themselves (though such a legal fiction is convenient in other areas).

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

Thanks, Mark, for that point. If individuals do not lose any of their individual rights when they join a group, does it also stand to reason that they do not shed any of their responsibilities?

If so, then the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case should be an easy decision for the Court, in favor of the plaintiff. Is this logic correct or is something else going on?

Thanks. Jonathan

In principle, I'd agree with you, but this case in particular seems to be more about international law than corporate responsibility (the author's opinion notwithstanding).

Of course, the idea of criminal corporate liability comes up against the questions of a) whom to punish (directors, executives, shareholders, etc.) and b) to what extent can they be held liable (i.e. does limited liability shield them at all)? I imagine these have been addressed by legal scholars, though I'm not familiar with any of the work.

One difference between criminal liability and free speech rights would seem to be that political donations come out of profits and therefore represent the stockholders en masse, while criminal activity can be traced in particular persons within the corporation, so criminal liability may accrue to them rather than to the corporation as a whole.

Just some thoughts--interesting topic, Jonathan!

Look what showed up in The Wall Street Journal tonight:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204520204577249072967967832.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEFTTopOpinion

And now the "Room for Debate" feature in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/02/28/corporate-rights-and-human-rights?smid=tw-roomfordebate&seid=auto

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