Sometime in 1973 or early 1974, I was in a class at the SUNY College of New Paltz. It was my only course, 15 credits, in political science, and, oddly, I don’t remember much about it except save for the fact that it was conducted by the late Ron Steinberg.
Except for one thing: we all got to meet retired US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in his office in Washington, DC. And not a meet-and-greet but him talking with us for at least a half hour, and then the dozen or so of us able to ask him questions.
Earl Warren is the guy whose court made many monumental decisions between 1953 and 1969 when he retired.
*attempting to end segregation policies in public schools (Brown v. Board of Education)
*ending anti-miscegenation laws (Loving v. Virginia)
*ruling that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut)
*protecting the rights of the accused (Miranda v. Arizona)
*providing lawyers to the indigent (Gideon v. Wainwright)
*codifying one person, one vote redistricting (Baker v. Carr)
*freedom of the press (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan)
The question I had must have been stated ineloquently because he didn’t know what I was getting at. I was probably nervous. Finally, I asked him about the precedent of the Court considering corporation as people back in the late 19th century. He said that the Court got it wrong back then.
Earl Warren, who died in July 1974, would have appreciated this article, “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie: How a farcical series of events in the 1880s produced an enduring and controversial legal precedent.” It involved the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, “owned by the robber baron Leland Stanford,” and the corporation’s lawyer, Roscoe Conkling.
Former President Harry S. Truman applauded the newly-retired Warren in this January 1970 California Law Review article. To the point of my question, Truman wrote:
“I would suggest that it is at least symptomatic of a conservative in today’s society that [Warren] is deeply concerned with the faceless, seemingly randomly and capriciously directed activities of the gigantic institutions which influence the direction of modem life. Under this definition, a conservative is one who worries that the balance of power in this nation has shifted in favor of oversized corporations, government agencies, labor unions, universities, foundations, and institutionalized groups which draw together shifting combinations of some or all of these.”
Happy Constitution Day.