The principle which justifies… a discrimination in assessment and taxation, where one of the owners is a railroad corporation and the other a natural person, would also sustain it where both owners are natural persons
It would be a singular comment upon the weakness and character of our republican institutions if the valuation and consequent taxation of property could vary according as the owner is white, or black, or yellow, or old, or young, or male, or female… Strangely, indeed, would the law sound in case it read that in the assessment and taxation of property a deduction should be made for mortgages thereon if the property be owned by white men or by old men, and not deducted if owned by black men or by young men; deducted if owned by landsmen, not deducted if owned by sailors; deducted if owned by married men, not deducted if owned by bachelors; deducted if owned by men doing business alone, not deducted if owned by men doing business in partnerships or other associations; deducted if owned by trading corporations, not deducted if owned by churches or universities; and so on, making a discrimination whenever there was any difference in the character or pursuit or condition of the owner. To levy taxes upon a valuation of property thus made is of the very essence of tyranny, and has never been done except by bad governments in evil times, exercising arbitrary and despotic power.
The circuit court in Santa Clara did not avoid discussion of an underlying jurisprudence. Its opinion confidently presented corporate personality as a legitimate and necessary aspect of economic “leadership” in society, rather than as a form of economic domination as the Populists argued. The decision announced broad constitutional protection for corporate persons within a description of society as a system of market relations…
The court thus asserted, in a converse syllogism, that where law prohibits discrimination between human beings (“natural persons”), no discrimination may be made between human beings and corporations. The court’s justification for this proposition was set out in a series of hypothetical statements describing varieties of discrimination. The text moved from discrimination based on human characteristics to discrimination based on characteristics of human economic behavior to discrimination involving strictly economic categories…
Note the semantic structure of the opinion. The distinction between individual economic activity and the activity of economic organizations was smoothly elided. Differences of economic function were neatly equated with human differences. Signs of natural human difference—race, sex, age—were intertwined with signs denoting types of institutions and forms of business organization. In this way the doctrine of legal personality admitted no distinction between humans and human organizations, between biology and politics—one was included within the other. Human existence was subsumed in the abstract realm of political economy. This semantic movement reached its foreordained conclusion: the concept of human equality in the Fourteenth Amendment not only extended to the nonhuman but prohibited any distinction between human and nonhuman, between humans and corporations.
the aggregate wealth of all the… companies engaged in business, or formed for religious, educational, or scientific purposes, amounts to billions upon billions of dollars… and furnishes employment, comforts, and luxuries to all classes, and thus promotes civilization and progress… the persons composing them—amounting in the aggregate to nearly half the entire population of the country.
With the adoption of the [Fourteenth] amendment the power of the state to oppress any one under any pretense or in any form was forever ended; and henceforth all persons within their jurisdiction could claim equal protection under the laws…. This protection attends every one everywhere, whatever be his position in society or his association with others, either for profit, improvement, or pleasure. It does not leave him because of any social or official position which he may hold, nor because he may belong to a political body, or to a religious society, or be a member of a commercial, manufacturing, or transportation company. It is the shield which the arm of our blessed government holds at all times over every one, man, woman, and child, in all its broad domain, wherever they may go and in whatever relations they may be placed.
With the adoption of the amendment the power of the state to [protect] any one under any pretense or in any form [except in the form of property] was forever ended; and henceforth all persons within their jurisdiction could claim equal protection under the laws [insofar as they are property owners and/or profiteers]…. This protection attends [all property (but really big, concentrated property)] everywhere, whatever be his position in society or his association with others, either for profit, improvement, or pleasure. It does not leave [property] because of any social or official position which [it] may hold, nor because [it] may belong to a political body, or to a religious society, or be a member of a commercial, manufacturing, or transportation company. It is the shield which the arm of our blessed government holds at all times over [the sword of] every [large-scale property owner], in all its broad domain, wherever they may go and in whatever relations they may be placed [, and especially wherever it aggresses].