Among the many incidents over the past few weeks of uprisings on our nation’s streets against racism and police brutality, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, have been unprovoked assaults by the police against peaceful protestors, journalists and even individuals on their own property.
A major factor for these attacks is “qualified immunity” -- a doctrine that shields police officers from lawsuits, even if officers violate the civil rights of those they brutalize. Such immunity both fuels abuses of power and chills victims from filing suits against violent officers -- knowing the chances of righting wrongs to people and communities are slim.
What is true of police officers is equally true of corporations.
The political streets are being cleared by Senate Republicans and the major corporations behind them to pave the way for sweeping civil immunity to corporations related to COVID-19 in the next federal response bill. Mitch McConnell wants to block lawsuits for five years through 2024, saying that he will draw a red line on the next bill -- meaning it won’t pass without “liability protection.” Just recently, he said the next stimulus package would “protect jobs, protect kids, protect liability.” The prospect of legislation has triggered a corporate lobbying frenzy.
The same Senate leadership who did nothing to protect human beings from the ravages of the coronavirus for several months earlier this year are now out in front calling for protection or “immunizing” their corporate donors/investors from being held accountable for any deliberate actions resulting in sickness, injury, fraud, price gouging, retaliation or other harms to workers, consumers and patients.
Businesses and service sectors that have endangered employees and customers by not following basic safety standards throughout the pandemic would love their own version of “qualified immunity.” These include supermarkets and grocers, restaurants, retail stores, factories, call centers, warehouses, meat and food processing plants, recreation and travel related businesses, nursing homes, hospitals, pharmacies, airlines and colleges.
Corporate immunity from public accountability has been a decades-long focus of the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
More corporate immunity means less corporate accountability. It also increases the temptation for businesses to cut corners on safety, knowing they have a legal shield of protection against reckless (in)actions. The public opposes giving blanket civil immunity to reopened businesses, as do unions and AARP. A vast majority (82%) of truly small business owners say they are not worried about lawsuits.
Corporate immunity is also being pushed by the Chamber of Commerce, ALEC and pro-corporate legislators at the state level. Bills have already passed in 5 states and are being proposed in at least 10 other states. The National Employment Law Project has produced an excellent toolkit if you want to oppose parallel legislative efforts in your state
So, opposing corporate immunity from lawsuits is important.
But more insidious is the more than century long corporate immunization from We the People. A steady stream of Supreme Court legal vaccines (i.e. decisions) providing corporations with never-intended constitutional rights of persons have immunized these legal fictions with rights that have caused catastrophic harms to individuals, families, communities, the environment and what little degree of authentic democracy we’ve ever had.
Passage of the We the People Amendment (HJR 48) would abolish all corporate constitutional rights that have infected our entire society.
Electing or unelecting candidates or passing or preventing the passage of laws and regulations isn’t sufficient when Supreme Court constitutional decisions and many sections of the Constitution itself are fundamentally rigged against people, especially people of color, over corporations and other forms of property.
Do we really have the time and energy to forever and ever play defense against one pro-corporate harmful proposal after another that threatens people, communities and/or the rapidly deteriorating natural world? Are any number of proposed fine corporate, social and democratic reforms enough when the scale of the multiple crises we’re facing demands organized grassroots movements requiring responses that are justly, sustainably and democratically transformative?
More and more people who’ve taken to the streets on issues of racial and economic justice think so. We agree on an even larger scale.
3 Immediate Take Action Steps
Tell your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative to oppose any legislation containing corporate immunity from COVID-19. The U.S. Capital Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. To find your Senators, go here. To find your Representative, go here.
While speaking with your Senators and Rep, ask them to support the We the People Amendment (HJR 48)
- If Senators, ask if they will co-sponsor when introduced in the Senate
If Representative, thank them if they are already a co-sponsor, or ask them to become a co-sponsor if they aren’t.
- All issues and movements demanding that the voiceless be heard and justice be served are connected. If able, join or continue to join those on the streets demanding justice for people of color. Systemic racism is inextricably connected to systemic economic and political oppression. If unable to physically join, show support on social media, by encouraging others to participate, or by donating to front line groups in your community who are organizing for fundamental justice.
Hope to see you in the streets!
Greg, Jessica, Keyan, Milly, Kaitlin, Shelly, Alfonso, Daniel, Leila, Jason, Tara, George, Joni
Move to Amend National Team
P.S. While corporations seek immunity from the pandemic, Move to Amend has not been so lucky. We’ve had to temporarily cut back staffing and other expenses while trying to adjust our effort to the new conditions. How temporary our cutbacks will be depends on your help. Please consider donating what you can in this economic trying time -- be it one time (how about your stimulus check?) or by becoming a monthly donor. To donate, go here. Thank you!