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NYT: Hobby Lobby Ruling May Exacerbate Economic Inequality by Treating Corporations as People

NYT: Hobby Lobby Ruling May Exacerbate Economic Inequality by Treating Corporations as People

July 23, 2014 — "[B]eneath the political implications," there are "significant economic undertones" of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, writes New York Times columnist Binyamin Appelbaum. He argues, "It expands the right of corporations to be treated like people, part of a trend that may be contributing to the rise of economic inequality."

He notes that U.S. Code defines corporations as people and that several Supreme Court decisions have granted corporations constitutional protections for business reasons. However, "[s]ince the 1950s ... the treatment of corporations as people has expanded beyond its original economic logic," he adds.

Appelbaum notes, "The basic justification is that corporations, owned by people, should have the same freedoms as people." However, he argues that corporations, unlike people, also have "special legal powers" that "give them the financial power to tilt the rules of the game by lobbying for particular legislation, among other things."

"The danger is not only that corporations can act at the expense of society, but also that the people who control them can act at the expense of their own shareholders, employees and customers," Appelbaum writes. He adds that while the Hobby Lobby ruling "ostensibly addresses only a narrow set of circumstances -- a corporation with relatively few owners, a religious objection to particular kinds of birth control -- these sorts of limited rulings have a history of becoming more broadly cited as precedent over time."

Appelbaum concludes, "If the court follows the logic of its Hobby Lobby decision in the decades to come, it's not so hard to imagine a job market where people must interview employers about their religious and political views. Or where people who need to make a living may just feel compelled to accept a work environment increasingly shaped by their employers' beliefs" (Appelbaum, New York Times, 7/22).