Persons Protected by the Due Process Clause: Persons
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The Due Process Clause provides that no states shall deprive any “person” of “life, liberty or property” without due process of law. A historical controversy has been waged concerning whether the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment intended the word “person” to mean only natural persons, or whether the word was substituted for the word “citizen” with a view to protecting corporations from oppressive state legislation.1 As early as the 1877 Granger Cases2 the Supreme Court upheld various regulatory state laws without raising any question as to whether a corporation could advance due process claims. Further, there is no doubt that a corporation may not be deprived of its property without due process of law.3 Although various decisions have held that the “liberty” guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment is the liberty of natural,4 not artificial, persons,5 nevertheless, in 1936, a newspaper corporation successfully objected that a state law deprived it of liberty of the press.6
- See Graham, The “Conspiracy Theory” of the Fourteenth Amendment, 47 Yale L. J. 371 (1938).
- Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877). In a case arising under the Fifth Amendment, decided almost at the same time, the Court explicitly declared the United States “equally with the States . . . are prohibited from depriving persons or corporations of property without due process of law.” Sinking Fund Cases, 99 U.S. 700, 718–19 (1879).
- Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 522, 526 (1898); Kentucky Co. v. Paramount Exch., 262 U.S. 544, 550 (1923); Liggett Co. v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105 (1928).
- As to the natural persons protected by the due process clause, these include all human beings regardless of race, color, or citizenship. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886); Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197, 216 (1923). See Hellenic Lines v. Rhodetis, 398 U.S. 306, 309 (1970).
- Northwestern Life Ins. Co. v. Riggs, 203 U.S. 243, 255 (1906); Western Turf Ass’n v. Greenberg, 204 U.S. 359, 363 (1907); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925). Earlier, in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197, 362 (1904), a case interpreting the federal antitrust law, Justice Brewer, in a concurring opinion, had declared that “a corporation . . . is not endowed with the inalienable rights of a natural person.”
- Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U.S. 233, 244 (1936) ( “a corporation is a ‘person’ within the meaning of the equal protection and due process of law clauses” ). In First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), faced with the validity of state restraints upon expression by corporations, the Court did not determine that corporations have First Amendment liberty rights—and other constitutional rights—but decided instead that expression was protected, irrespective of the speaker, because of the interests of the listeners. See id. at 778 n.14 (reserving question). But see id. at 809, 822 (Justices White and Rehnquist dissenting) (corporations as creatures of the state have the rights state gives them).
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