In that case, the New York Times corporation doesn’t have First Amendment rights. The NAACP doesn’t have standing to file law suits for civil rights violations. In that case, the government doesn’t need a warrant to enter the property of the Sierra Club and peruse their membership files or bug their phones. If corporations are not people then they can’t own property. They can’t enter into contracts.
English Common Law has always treated corporations as people for the purposes of the law. Boston and other colonies were founded by corporations. If corporations are not people, where did all the people in the Massachusetts Bay Colony come from?
Typically, no one claims corporations don’t have *those* rights. They usually argue that they merely don’t have the rights (especially free speech rights) that they don’t want them to have. It’s very picky-choosey.
And it is no use saying "Well, the New York Times is mentioned in the Constitution." It's not. Neither is CNN. Neither is a guy with a printing press in the basement or a blogger who has bought his own domain. When the 1st Amendment references "abridging freedom of speech or the press" it means that we have the freedom to speak and to WRITE AND DISTRIBUTE. "The press" in this case are the actual physical 18th century printing presses (regardless of who owns them) which the government does not have the authority to regulate. Calling the New Times or CNN "the Press" is a metaphor - an appropriate one, but they are no more "the press" than I am as I type this.
But what is a “corporation?” Where do they come from? Do they condense from the morning fog or spontaneously generate from rotten meat? Answer: Corporations are PEOPLE who have combined their after-tax labor, resources, and stored labor (money) in order to accomplish some endeavor, such as making a profit, performing some public good (as they see it), or effecting political change.
Corporations are legal fictions representing actual, distinct people. They inherit their constitutional rights and the right to act in the political sphere (as when the New York Times endorses a candidate) from the people they stand for.
If we revoke our own ability to cooperate together in the political sphere, we hand control of our government to whoever has taken its reins at any time. Because those people certainly act in concert with privileges and powers not available to any other human association. And those people are not disembodied parties or departments, nor esoteric goals, nor angels descended from Heaven. They are politicians and bureaucrats who have very particular ideas of what is best for the rest of us formed from their own PERSONAL interests (it’s THEY the People; not WE the People).
As De Tocqueville said in “Democracy in America”:
“Among democratic nations it is ONLY by private associations that the resistance of the people to government can ever display itself; so [governments] always look with ill-favor on those associations that are not under its power. And it is remarkable that among democratic nations, the people themselves often entertain a secret feeling of fear and jealousy against these very associations which prevents the citizens from defending the very institutions that they so greatly need.”
The “Citizens United” Decision“Citizens United” was a small media company that wanted distribute a film that would influence political debate just as Paramount and Miramax do and have done; just as national newspapers do. Unfortunately for them, they were not powerful, wealthy, connected big-shots like those corporations. They were a small media company. So when they tried to distribute a film about the politician Senator Hillary Clinton, the FEC prevented them from doing so. The FEC ruled that advertisements for the film constituted a violation of the McCain–Feingold Act that prohibited broadcast, cable, or satellite communications that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary (essentially everything any network or cable news organization does). Senator Clinton had not yet officially declared that she was a candidate in the primary, but the FEC ruled that the law applied because they *assumed* she would be.
To understand the degree to which the Supreme Court’s final decision protected American civil rights it is important to note that the Obama administration’s Solicitor General argued that the FEC could ban print books published or distributed by a corporation or union that had a single sentence expressly endorsing or calling for the defeat of a candidate. Further, he said that the government could ban the digital distribution of political books over the Amazon Kindle or prevent a union from hiring a writer to author a political book.