Years ago I remember hearing or reading that a reporter or stenographer for a Supreme Court case editorialized something in to the court record that wasn't intended by the presiding Justices, and that created the precedent upon which the concept of corporate personhood is based. Researching, I found this article that seems to comport with what I remember, but I don't have access to its referenced source.
In the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the Supreme Court decided that only the state that charters a corporation can tax it. This decision upheld the long-standing custom in America of state governance of corporations. It's the state that grants a corporation its charter -- its license to do business -- and it's up to the state to tax and regulate the corporation.
But a note written by the court reporter at the heading of the decision went further than that. Although another, private note from the Chief Justice said that the court had purposely avoided the issue of Constitutional corporate protection, the reporter chose to make his own addition to the records. He noted that the court had decided that corporations are persons under the 14th Amendment, and as such are subject to the same protections under the law as anyone else [source: Hartmann].
What's strange, Hartmann points out, is that the justices hadn't ruled that way at all. Even fishier, the court reporter was a former railroad president [source: Hartmann]. Ultimately, since it was a headnote (a commentary prefix to the court record) written by the reporter, it didn't constitute law. But it did set precedent. Two years later, this idea was upheld in another case: Pembina Consolidated Mining and Milling Co. v. Pennsylvania [source: Aljalian].
The bibliography entry is
Hartmann, Thom. "Unequal protection: The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights." St. Martin's Press. 2002.
I used to listen to Thom Hartmann's radio show when it was broadcast in my area, so it's possible that that is where I learned of it.
Does corporate personhood have a more legitimate basis, or is there any truth to this story? Most surprisingly, how could a railroad president end up in the position of court reporter?