What’s Dartmouth got to do with It?

26 Jan

“If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from”

-Bob Marley

For those of you still puzzling over the nonsense of the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictions on corporate and union interference in the political process, Texas Monthly has had some interesting blog posts by their political editor (a lawyer by trade) Paul Burka.  He is a conservative, but he does call bullshit when pols fail to do their job and/or homework.  To prove I’ve done my homework, we’ll first have a history lesson.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling from 1819 under Chief Justice John Marshall sanctified contracts and corporate charters in a lawsuit between Dartmouth University and New Hampshire.  It turns out the Dartmouth began from a charter from the King of England.  New Hampshire wanted a state university of its own to educate its people and figured it would be nice to have Dartmouth instead of starting their own.  Since we weren’t under the King of England the charter shouldn’t be valid in the new republic.  The state of New Hampshire nationalized the university and took over the board of the school.  A lawsuit (naturally) followed and famous lawyer-politician Daniel Webster argued for his alma mater’‘s independence before the high court.

In the lawsuit Dartmouth College v Woodward, the Supreme Court ruled that even though Dartmouth began under a royal charter, the contract must be respected and the state could not infringe on the rights of the corporation initiated by the King.  The state had to give up Dartmouth, and the Court made contracts totally inviolable in the United States, even in the case of nonexistent royal charters.  This incidentally is a foundational case in corporate personhood and paved the way to the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific decision that made corporations people.

Burka explains how the Citizens United decision differs significantly from the Dartmouth case and even from a 1990 ruling in Michigan.  A not-so illogical consequence could be a corporation asking to register to vote or run for office.  The effects on the already “pro-business” Texas Legislature are examined here.

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One Response to “What’s Dartmouth got to do with It?”

  1. Jim Cooke January 27, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Thank you for your excellent summary of the Dartmouth College Case. Here follows my treatment in “Daniel Webster: I Still Live!”

    “For the question is simply this: Shall our State Legislature be allowed to take that which is not their own, to turn it from its original use, and apply it to such ends or purposes as they, in their discretion, shall see fit!
    “Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak; it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights in the literary horizon of our country. You may put it out. But if you do so, you must carry though your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which, for more than a century, have thrown their radiance over our land!
    “It is, sir, I have said a small college. And yet there are those who love it. “Sir, I know not how others may feel, but for myself, when I see my Alma Mater surrounded, like Caesar in the senate-house, by those who are reiterating stab upon stab, I would not, for this right hand, have her turn to me and say, Et tu? And thou too, my son!”

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