Letter from Langdon: Corporate Rights

A proposed amendment to the Missouri State Constitution sounds like it will protect the rights of individual farmers and ranchers to engage in agriculture. In reality, the amendment is more likely to protect the rights of corporations to push people around.

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On the other side of the issue, amendment proponents are using all-American images to promote the measure. Despite the slick ad campaign, the amendment will actually benefit corporations, not people, opponents say.
You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

– Miranda rights

In August, during the state primary election, Missouri voters will decide the question, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?” Also known as Amendment One to our state Constitution.

This reminds me of the Miranda Warning that came about after a Supreme Court ruling in 1966, in favor of suspected felons who have Constitutional rights that cannot be infringed. That’s because a long time ago, patriots like Thomas Jefferson inserted 10 amendments called the Bill of Rights into the U.S. Constitution.  

We the people needed more explicit safeguards for our personal rights.

Even in Jefferson’s day, corporations existed. And there were disagreements among liberals and conservatives about what corporations should or shouldn’t do. One thing everyone agreed on was that they were just a tool of business.

Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court first took on the job of deciphering the intent of the Constitution for everyone.

Jefferson was not pleased.

Jefferson and Chief Justice John Marshall disagreed over Marshall’s move toward courts being interpreters of Constitutional protections. Jefferson argued that Supreme Court power over the Constitution violated the concept of three separate but equal branches of government.

But one thing both Jefferson and Marshall did agree on was limiting the power of corporations.

That’s why it’s strange to see the larger-than-life statue of Thomas Jefferson standing on the steps of the state Capitol, in the city named after Jefferson, as corporate power grows unbridled in my state of Missouri.

I’m not sure what accounts for Missouri’s change of heart, but this how it started:

After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was passed to protect our civil rights. Since then courts have interpreted those protections to apply to corporations as well as flesh-and-blood people. No state of the Union has taken that to heart more than Missouri. 

The Missouri ballot question raises several unanswered questions that will undoubtedly be answered in court.

First off, who is a Missouri citizen? 

Courts will probably say a citizen is anyone who resides in the state of Missouri. Since the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to protect both corporate persons and people, a Missouri citizen will be anyone – Missouri corporation or flesh and blood – who lives here.

Who is a farmer or rancher?

Well clearly, a farmer or rancher is anyone who engages in those practices of farming or ranching. The Tyson, Smithfield and Cargill corporations raise hogs and chickens. They are farmers. JBS of Brazil, Cargill and Tyson feed cattle. They are ranchers. 

What is the meaning of infringement, as in their rights shall not be infringed?

Let’s say a large corporation wants to be a hog farmer. Their business plan requires huge amounts of water and power. Their water requirements may mean that you will not have enough water for your own personal needs. And the power lines to supply them will have to cross your property, thus decreasing its value in addition to making it worth less simply because it is now situated near a huge hog farm. As a private citizen you will not be able to infringe upon those needs.

At some point the question will have to be answered, what is an acceptable agricultural practice?

If you are a hog farmer too, disease from concentrated livestock nearby may make it impossible for you to raise hogs profitably. But just because your right to grow livestock the way you want to will be infringed, courts will look around Missouri and conclude that concentrated livestock is acceptable here, and disease in animals, like current epidemic proportions of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, is unavoidable.

Disease, especially corporate disease, is a fact of life.

While many real, live people in the U.S. are beginning to see downsides to 14th Amendment protection for cold blooded corporations, the U.S. Constitution says states still have the right to breathe life into them through their own Constitutions. That’s why Missouri’s question on the August ballot is so important to big companies here. Approval of the amendment would help cement corporations into citizen-farmer roles before corporate powers can be revoked and voters in Missouri wake up to the real implications.

In recent sessions the Missouri General Assembly has increased the amount of land foreign corporations can own. They have made it harder for people to protect themselves from corporate pollution and infringement on personal rights, like access to clean water and air.  Now most large producer groups and Missouri Farm Bureau have endorsed Amendment One because it protects the rights of farmers and ranchers.

In reality Missouri’s proposed Amendment One does nothing but guarantee that a few large companies will continue to dominate ever more of Missouri’s most productive rural landscape and exercise more control in the way we grow our food.

Jefferson would not approve.

Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

 

Topics: Ag and Trade
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