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The Myth of Corporate Super-Humans

February 22, 2011

It is a basic principle of governance in the United States that all persons are considered equal in matters of law.

That sentence almost makes you laugh, doesn’t it? Sure, there’s an antiquated document lying around somewhere that says something like that, but that’s not how it is. Nearly all of us have had to deal with the legal system in some way or another, and we know it’s not fair.

We know that money has undue influence in the law. And it’s not even just in the far-away land of Congress, where bribes are everyday business and integrity is in short supply. Any working-class person who has had to scrape up hundreds or thousands of hard-earned dollars to deal with the courts can tell you about injustice.

The law is for sale all around us, and it’s a hell of a lot easier for the wealthy to buy. They get what they want because they can consistently afford to pay for the better option. But when it comes to that amorphous group “the wealthy,” one sub-group stands out as the wealthiest, the most powerful, and the least likely to have any moral objection with befouling important social customs: large corporate institutions.

That sub-group, by its persistent monetary and litigious assaults on the system, has morphed itself into something different from the rest of us. Despite not even being human, many among its ranks now amount to “super-humans” under the law. They are impervious to certain actions, favored heavily in certain matters, and often subject to different enforcement mechanisms. They are designated rights and privileges that even human beings do not have, and they have the means to actually use them. (What average citizen could ever claim “eminent domain” on a block of occupied houses?)

Today, February 22, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the validity of this tiered system of law by ruling 6-2 that it is constitutional for pharmaceutical companies to have a separate court system for settling matters related to vaccines.

This decision is part of a general trend of the creation and exploitation of exceptions that permit some persons—corporate or actual—to have different rights and processes than others. The traditional, official court system comes into play for “ordinary” crimes and wrongdoing. The police investigate crimes and deliver suspects to the courts, or the plaintiff and defendant appear in court to have the controversy presented to a judge or jury.

On the other hand, politically connected persons and institutions too often find ways to avoid the judicial system. As mentioned above, pharmaceutical companies have a special “side court” to settle actions related to vaccines. Matters of financial fraud are handled by the notoriously corrupt Securities and Exchange Commission. Crimes within the political system are often assigned to special committees and commissions and task forces, instead of being investigated and prosecuted properly. The list goes on and on. These surrogate judicial systems seem to exist for the sole purpose of shielding certain persons and institutions from the full hand of the law.

Simultaneously, the only alterations to the judicial system available to normal citizens are nearly the opposite of those described above. The poor are often unable to even pay for effective legal services and court costs. Citizens accused of certain crimes, or accused of crimes in certain circumstances, do not receive any kind of preferential treatment. This is especially noteworthy in cases in which “terrorism” or “national security” is invoked. The defendants are actually deprived of their basic legal protections, including rights specifically protected by multiple parts of the Constitution.

There is no room in a fair and equitable system for grossly divergent applications of law. No person or institution is a super-human deserving of special rules and legal options. Similarly, no person or institution is a sub-human that warrants unfavorable legal practices and procedures. It is a massive disservice to our entire society for these conditions to exist.

When these actions occur consistently and by design, it is nothing short of systemic fraud. Surrogate courts and mutilated legal settings produce outcomes that are entirely illegitimate. There are no legal super-humans or sub-humans. There are only repeated perversions of justice that no one should regard as authority.

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