Who, or what, is a person or a citizen in America?
It would seem to be a simple, almost stupid question. Right? I would suggest you consider the recent batch of legislation and court decisions swirling around our legal structure before you answer. The contradictory, countervailing, counterintuitive nature of recent legal precedents which have granted corporations, embryos, and homosexuals full citizenship rights while, at the same time, other legal actions have restarted Stem Cell research, legalized assassinations, outlawed gay marriage, and created economic directors by undermining referendums.
On the one side, the right to bear arms is more valued than the right to life, unless you are not yet born, in which case the right to potential life is more valuable than the right to privacy. However the right to privacy trumps the right to good health care because it would be tyranny for you to receive a benefit for from someone else’s tax dollars. Unless you are a corporation, in which case you should be given any benefit you desire because you are a good economic citizen, and need not even pay taxes.
On the other side, Citizen United is bad because it devalues a citizen’s voice by allowing money to corrupt the system, however, the government should be able to reach into your finances and take whatever it needs and throw you in jail for refusing, never mind the 4th or 5th amendments. The right to bear arms is not more important than a person’s right to stay alive which is why we need more oversight on guns, unless that gun is on a drone hunting a person on a kill list. Then no oversight is needed, thank you. Privacy is of the upmost importance, especially regarding LGBT and Abortion issues, but don’t try and get on an airplane or use the Internet, because then we will download every moment of your life and take pictures of your genitles.
Of course, all sides seem to agree that if you are a bank and defraud the entire nation or launder money for rogue nations, their will be no punishment. However, should you be an individual and get caught smoking a joint, into the private prison system you go.
Importance to Individual Citizens?
So what does this mean for us? Is it all just incidental wonkery, or are there real world implications to this cluster of confusing legislative crosswinds? What does it mean to be an individual person in America?
The Citizens United decision extended the concept of corporate personhood from being a tool to simplify business deals to now allowing organizations full human rights of speech and political participation. However, this comes without the type accountability we usually associate with such rights, because individuals make decisions not legal entities. Yet the people running these corporations are not held responsible for the actions of the “corporate person”. Which appears to have been the idea in the first place.
Then there are the swath of Personhood Amendments recently circulating Republican controlled state legislatures which would grant full human rights to a fertilized egg, or an embryo with a heartbeat, in the womb. Thus outlawing abortion and most birth control, by legally declaring that having human DNA is all it takes to be a person. For opponents of this, women (and men in a larger sense) should be able to manage their own health care without the government being involved. Apparently this is a controversial position that could tear our culture apart, somehow.
At the same time, the Supreme Court of the United States is currently looking to rule on whether homosexual humans enjoy the same rights as heterosexual humans. Are they, or not, full citizens in the way embryos and corporations are being declared? For the homosexual, they just want to live their lives in the open, with the people they love, and enjoy whatever economic benefits they can as well, just like the rest of us. Apparently this is a controversial position that could tear our culture apart, somehow.
For immigrants, the question of citizenship rights revolves around fear. It isn’t a question of what needs to be done, on which there is a great deal of agreement under various semantic variations, but rather what can be made law. If the politicians’ fear of losing general elections to a growing Hispanic vote can outweigh the fear of being primar-ied by old bigots who fear a growing Hispanic population, then they can become citizens. For the immigrant, they just want to live, work and play without having to hide in the shadows, just like the rest of us. Apparently this is a controversial position that could tear our culture apart, somehow.
So, apparently you do not need DNA to receive Constitutional protections, if you are a corporation, nor does having DNA guarantee that you will get them, if you are gay or an immigrant. So what does matter? Can you influence the process. There are no Personhood amendments in Democrat controlled states, nor is there Gay marriage legislation in Republican controlled states. Which some might consider a testament to Federalism and States Rights, unless they had ever read the Constitution or theFederalist Papers. Having done so, they would understand that the fundamental things, for example human rights, were expected to be universal while the details of implementation were allowed to be flexible at the state level. They were trying to avoid micromanagement, not endorse chaos, else why reform the prior, weak Confederation at all?
Sophistry or Practicality
So what does it mean to be a person and/or citizen in America? We keep trying to expand the parameters to be more inclusive (at one time only white, male, landowners enjoyed full rights) but we never really discuss into what are we including people.
The 14th Amendment defines citizenship in a rather straightforward manner, and explains the limits of authority this creates for the governing authorities:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That Amendment, those simple, concise and clear words, would seem to preclude the Citizens United decision since organizations can’t be born or naturalized. It would also seem to preclude the “Personhood Amendments” since they are specifically addressing organisms which have not yet been born, and cannot be naturalized. Also it would seem to preclude all of the issues surrounding discrimination for any reason, including homosexuality, under the equal protection clause. Yet here we are, in the exact opposite of all those situations.
Additionally, we are trying to naturalize those who are here illegally, so they can be brought under the law, but for some reason that is unwelcome to some. Meanwhile the PC police want to refer to these human beings as “undocumented workers” ignoring both the reason they are undocumented and the Orwellian overtones of suggesting that our role as citizens is to serve the capitalist machine, and the only disruption herein is caused by their lack of proper documentation. An odd counterpoint to the corporatist free speech argument of Citizens United, which essentially rests on a perversion of decades of precedent designed to establish Corporations as legal persons so that documents could be signed and filed on behalf of the shareholders rather than making all of them sign each and every time. The combination of these two situations somehow, both claiming intention to improve rights, moves us further towards a bizarre corporate dystopia.
So, despite the 14th and various legislation and court cases, we are still left in an unclear situation. While it is true that our day to day lives seem to muster on without much problem, this remains no small point. The defining of person and citizen is singularly significant to us because it is fundamental to the design and establishment of the nation:
Preamble, US ConstitutionWe the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Whomever “We the People” may be by custom, as a matter of law, they are the source of power and legitimacy for this republic. But we seem, at this point in our history, to be faced with a serious conundrum. We wish to expand the scope of rights to include more demographics, yet prevent that idea from pinwheeling out of control into an Orwellian madhouse where it includes everything from corporations to embryos, and the idea of being an individual human citizen deserving of equal representation, equal justice, and equal opportunity holds little import or even meaning at all.