Alito's stirring defense of corporations, of course, builds on that applied by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Citizens United, which was itself amplified by a paean to corporations delivered in a separate opinion and partial dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia—in which he asserted, remarkably, how much the Founding Fathers (other than Thomas Jefferson) loved corporations. In both cases, a corporate charter—the idea that these are separate, artificial entities created for narrow and specific purposes—is ignored, dismissed, or downplayed in the desire to equate corporations with individuals in granting rights. To Alito, corporations are collections of individuals, and deserve all the protections the individuals in the collective have. Of course, missing from his collective are the employees of the corporation.
Here is the textbook legal definition of a corporation: an association of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members.
Why are for-profit corporations set up? The characterization tells us: to make profits. And the corporate charter has multiple benefits that go way beyond those of individuals. There are major tax benefits unavailable to individuals. There are stringent legal protections from liability unavailable to individuals.
For decades, the Supreme Court recognized that reality, and put limits on the ability of for-profit corporations to overwhelm or disproportionately influence elections. Kennedy blew that history apart in Citizens United, and Alito amplified it in Hobby Lobby. When Alito writes about humanitarian and other altruistic objectives, the fact is that for-profit corporations with shareholders justify charitable giving and other altruism to their shareholders as actions that are good for them in their goal of maximizing profits.
Alito tried to make a deep distinction for closely held corporations; reading his decision, one might think that these are mom-and-pop operations, small family businesses. Of course, as many observers have pointed out, Cargill, Mars, Koch Industries, and other closely held corporations have tens of thousands of employees (in Cargill's case, 133,000) and many billions in business and profit. Hobby Lobby is a huge business. Give the Hobby Lobby owners' family credit for their deep religious convictions. But if profit-making were truly subordinated to those convictions, which are strongly in opposition to abortion rights, Hobby Lobby would provide paid maternity leave for employees who shun contraception and abortion to have babies. It doesn't.
But for the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans—with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship. Call it the new Crony Capitalism.