They're basing their case on the 14th Amendment, which addressed slavery by guaranteeing all persons equal protection under the law, and since corporations are people, well…
But what about the equal protection rights of the people who work in these businesses? Our historical research has found that the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment were very interested in employer-employee relations, and in particular, whether workers could earn "fair, living wages." That phrase doesn't come from some union organizer or activist in Seattle: it comes from Senator Jacob Howard, a staunch Republican who was the Fourteenth Amendment's Senate floor manager back in 1866, and whose statements on the concerns motivating the Fourteenth Amendment are a little more important than the legal opinions of Grimace and Captain Crook. And during the Congressional hearings documented in the official report of the committee that proposed the amendment, Senator Howard asked over and over whether employers would pay "fair, living wages." Of course, a living wage wasn't the only concern behind the Fourteenth Amendment. But, unlike protection of the franchised business model, it was definitely part of the overall goals.
Given how important the idea of "fair, living wages" was to the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, it's shameful for the McNugget Buddies to claim that the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause should protect them, rather than real human workers with families to feed. But it's not surprising. Ever since the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, corporate lawyers have tried to leverage it into a racket to strike down laws like Seattle's. In 1938, a frustrated Supreme Court justice complained that "of the cases in [the] Court in which the Fourteenth Amendment was applied during the first fifty years after its adoption, less than one-half of 1 percent invoked it in protection of the negro race, and more than 50 percent asked that its benefits be extended to corporations." Just this past year, we've seen the Equal Protection Clause invoked on behalf of coal companies and multinational agribusiness conglomerates. And now, the Fry Kids.
Ronald McDonald and Friends Sue Seattle to Stop Minimum Wage Hike [Ron Fein/Huffington Post]