They [corporations] cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed nor excommunicate, for they have no souls. – Case of Sutton’s Hospital, Edward Coke.
Isn’t this an amazing statement? More amazing—though you might believe it was made before the United States Supreme Court by the Federal Election Commission—it was written in the early 1600s.
In the course of collecting apt quotes for Sidebar, I bumped into Edward Coke. Name probably pronounced “cook.” Utterly unrelated to the Koch Brothers.
I hadn’t heard of Coke but should have. So should we all—all of us who are watching in horror as democracy disintegrates under the rot of huge corporate monies. Our new absolute monarchs—kings of industry—are seizing back governance from the rest of us peons. And it was absolute monarchy that Coke argued against. He, a middle-class guy, favored common law over the law of princes.
It’s the ultra-conservative mantra that foreign law must never be cited by the courts and legislatures of the United States, and never should be mentioned or quoted as an underpinning for our own laws and court judgments. So I trust I’m being treasonous to suggest that Coke, along with the rest of us, was one of the unnamed defendants in Citizens United. (We who are not corporations lost. But you knew that.)
As Mitt Romney declared, Video: Mitt Romney says ‘Corporations are people, my friend’ – Technorati Politics. Hey.
Here is Edward Coke’s brief bio as offered in my Columbia Encyclopedia of 1939 (which I hang on to because if you look up William Butler Yeats, you discover that he is still alive).
You’ll see that Coke was, OMG, one of those American Founding Fathers—the European ones, the Enlightenment ones. You know, the ones it is anathema to regard highly, refer to in law, or even mention? Because we all know that America sprung full grown out of the foreheads of its American Founding Fathers? Because the American Constitution is revealed Truth, never to be interpreted, added to or, indeed, comprehended by us mortals? (It can be read by us mortals, though: look →, under Sites of Interest. But don’t you dare interpret it!)
Coke, Sir Edward, 1552-1634, English jurist, one of the most eminent in the history of English law. He was elected to Parliament and rose rapidly, becoming solicitor-general and speaker of the House of Commons. In 1593 he was made attorney-general, his rival for that office being Sir Francis Bacon, one of Coke’s bitterest enemies. He prosecuted noted men and earned a name as a severe prosecutor. The accession of James did not affect Coke’s favorable position at court. In 1606 he was made chief justice of the common pleas. In this position Coke became the champion of Parliament against the king, attacking the royal prerogative and declaring royal proclamations contrary to law null and void. He upheld the supremacy of common law and enunciated doctrines of individual liberty that were to have a profound effect on history. Though his historical arguments were frequently based on false interpretations of early documents, as in the case of the Magna Carta, his reasoning was brilliant and his conclusions impressive. His constant collisions with the king and the numerous enmities he developed brought about his fall. Bacon was one of the foremost figures in engineering his dismissal in 1616. By person and political influence, Coke got himself back on the Privy Council and was elected to Parliament (1620) where he became a leader of the popular party in opposition to James I and Charles I. He was important in the drafting of the Petition of Right (1628). Coke was the greatest of all English common lawyers.
Oh, if you insist, here’s Edward Coke – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.