Stephen L. Carter: If You Like NC Corporate Boycotts, You Favor Corporate Free Speech Rights

business_ethics_highlights_2This piece by Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter is an interesting contribution to the debate over corporate personhood and the legal and constitutional rights that attach to corporate entities. Carter’s commentary and its included hypothetical case scenario militate toward the conclusion that if you oppose corporate free speech when it disagrees with your views and applaud it when it agrees with your views, you appeal to no political principle except tribalism. This would be good classroom fodder for a discussion about corporate personhood and political participation by corporate entities. >>>

LINK: Yes, Corporations Do Have Free Speech Rights (By Stephen L. Carter for Bloomberg View)

As a free speech near-absolutist, it’s been fun for me to watch my progressive friends cheer as major corporations threaten to boycott states accused of striking the wrong balance on gay and transgender rights. I’m bothered by most of the same state laws that my progressive friends are, but I marvel nevertheless that they think the solution is for big business to throw its weight around. Still, I’m happy to welcome them aboard the yes-corporations-do-have-free-speech-rights ship.

Before you object that the controversy has nothing to do with corporate free speech, imagine that North Carolina or Mississippi or some other state under fire were to adopt the following law: “No private for-profit corporation shall refuse or threaten to refuse to do business within this state, or to do business with any government entity within this state, on the basis of any disagreement with the state’s laws, regulations, or policies.” The statute would then go on to set forth penalties, including heavy fines, for violation.

Nevertheless, I still think my hypothetical statute would be flatly unconstitutional. If you agree with me, you evidently hold a fairly robust view of the free speech rights that attach to private for-profit corporations. After all, the sole ground of the companies’ threatened refusal to deal is a strong disagreement with the states’ policies on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I, too, wish the states would take a more open view of human possibility, and not rush to legislate for eventualities exceedingly unlikely to arise. But that’s a simple and straightforward political tussle—exactly what the First Amendment exists to protect.

What do you think?

See also: Corporations as “People” vs Corporations as “Persons”

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One comment

  1. By the way, the Carter piece reminded me of BEH’s recent piece on Apple & Forced Labour.
    A hypothetical law requiring a company to continue to do business in NC would de facto be a requirement that its employees keep doing business in NC. I suspect people would rebel against that notion, even if they didn’t mind forcing a “mere” corporation.

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