Haines, Alaska recently became the first community in the United States to amend its local Charter i.e., its Borough “constitution” to address the issue of constitutional rights for artificial entities.
More than 200 communities across the country have passed resolutions and ordinances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, expressing their concern over the influence that corporations and other “artificial persons” have over our government based on the unlimited amount of money they can spend on electioneering and lobbying. While the Haines vote on the Constitutional Rights Ballot Measure does not have the immediate effect of law to address any specific circumstance, the Borough Charter is the guiding document for the passage and interpretation of all laws in the Borough and will inform the local Borough Assembly on how to interpret questions on constitutional rights as they arise in the future.
The Haines ad hoc group known as “We The People”, with the assistance of UC Alaska Director Gershon Cohen, spearheaded the effort to place the amendment question on the ballot in the October municipal election. The amendment, which passed by nearly a 60-40 margin, states the people of Haines believe the US Supreme Court and the State of Alaska have been mistaken in conferring rights intended for individual human beings to corporations and other persons. The new language added to the Haines Preamble and Bill of Rights reads as follows:
We, the people of the Haines Borough, believe the rights set out in the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, like those in this Charter, are guaranteed only to individual human beings and do not apply to artificial entities.
The effort was supported by many of the town’s most prominent business owners who recognized they have nothing to fear from not being able to exercise rights as corporations, and in fact have a lot to fear if their local government is incapable of protecting local interests and quality of life from outside corporations attempting to assert corporate constitutional rights at the expense of the constitutional rights of residents. According to UC Co-founder and Alaska Program Director Cohen, “…what was perhaps most telling about the election was that the ballot measure passed easily despite a series of very negative and misleading campaign ads from the local Chamber of Commerce, even though overall the election of Assembly and School Board members tipped in favor of the more conservative side of the community. This vote proved once again that people in Haines, like folks everywhere in Alaska and around the country regardless of party affiliation or political leaning, believe the US Supreme Court has missed the mark on this critical issue.”