Democracy Is Coming… To The U.S.A.!


When Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca, recently directed a corporate “fracking” combine in Western Pennsylvania to unseal the terms of a settlement with citizen-plaintiffs, she struck a clear blow for the public’s right to know. But far beyond the borders of Washington County PA, her ruling is being celebrated by a national movement working to reverse 127 years of law that gave corporations the constitutional protections of real human beings.

Her decision echoed language as old as that used when corporations were judged subservient to citizens and as new as the slogans of the “occupy” movement. 

Judge O’Dell-Seneca observed that the Pennsylvania state constitution says men and women come into this world with ‘certain inherent and indefeasible rights’ and continued that,

are no men or women defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities…legal fictions, existing not by natural birth but operations of state statutes…Such entities cannot have beenborn equally free and independent,’ they were not born at all. Indeed, the framers of our constitution not have intended for them to befree and independent,’ as the creations of the law, they are always subservient it.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The various states…allow for business entities to exist but are not required to establish them. In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing. Once created, they become property of the men and women who own them, and, therefore, the constitutional rights that business entities may assert are not coterminous or homogeneous with the rights of human beings. Were they so, the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.” line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Judge O’Dell-Seneca was careful to highlight how corporations are treated differently by federal and state constitutions, by tracing Pennsylvania’s back to the original 1776 version: (parens added)

the framers intended the of Article I, § (the inherent rights of mankind) to extend to business entities, they could have written, ‘All persons are created free and independent … did not. Indeed, it is federal Amendment XIV's use of the wordperson’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities, its drafters were presumed to have that ‘person’ is a legal term of art, encompassing entities under the common law. This was so clear that Chief Justice Waite ruled, prior to oral argument, that: court does not wish to hear argument on the of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment the Constitution, forbids a State to deny to person within its jurisdiction equal protections of the laws, applies these corporations. We all of the opinion that it does.’ Santa County v. Southern Pac. R. Co., 118 U.S. 394, 6 S.Ct. (1886).

the exact opposite conclusion is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth Pennsylvania. It provides, in line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>§ Certain Charters to Be Subject to the Constitution

corporations have accepted or accept the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the benefits of any by the General Assembly after 1873 governing the affairs of corporations hold their charters subject to the provisions of the Constitution this Commonwealth.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>§ Revocation, Repeal of Charters and Corporation Law line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>All charters of private corporations all present and future common or statutory law with respect to the formation or regulation of private corporations powers, rights, duties or liabilities private corporations their officers, directors shareholders may be revoked, amended or repealed.

the constitution in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, Defendants assert the protections of Article I, § 1, because they are not mentioned in its text.” line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>In a footnote, O’Dell-Seneca added,

the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania wrote that 23 times. All such uses limit corporations; grants them rights.”

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Elsewhere in her Opinion and Order, the judge quoted a 1687 document by William Penn, holder of the royal charter that founded the state, in which Penn examined notions of liberty addressed in England’s Magna Charta.  O’Dell-Seneca noted that, "…nothing in his writings on liberty suggests that Penn thought that those rights inured to businesses."

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Gradually, beginning in the late 1800’s, the U.S. Supreme Court helped corporations usurp all manner of “Bill of Rights” protections that were initially intended only for living, breathing humans, such as free speech and equal protection.  

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Since 1992 there has been a growing movement to expose that hidden history and find ways to return corporations to shorter leashes that once held them subservient to the people who created them.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Based on research and writing done by Richard Grossman and Frank Adams in “Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation,” the Program On Corporations, Law and Democracy started publishing and convening scores of weekend retreats across the country to spread the gospel of citizen sovereignty and discuss practical ways to breathe more life into democracy.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Out of that effort, the Community Environmental and Legal Defense Fund began to explore a “rights-based” approach to organizing against corporate factory-farms in southeastern Pennsylvania that relied citizen sovereignty, not environmental regulations, to secure a better quality of life. Activists in California and soon elsewhere experimented with new ways to kick corporate money out of elections, pass local resolutions against corporate “personhood.” and more recently, fight natural gas “fracking.”

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Today, MoveToAmend.org is consolidating that experience and energy into a national movement to put forward a U.S. Constitutional Amendment that would end the twin, destructive fantasies that a) money is the same as speech and b) corporations are persons.

David Cobb, spokesperson for the MoveToAmend.org coalition welcomed Judge O’Dell-Seneca’s decision.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>“The courts once held that indigenous people had no rights, that enslaved Africans had no rights, that women had no rights, that immigrants had no rights, that LGBT people had no rights. It took mass movements to correct these injustices and it will take another mass movement to abolish utterly and completely the legal doctrine that allows a corporation to claim to be a person with constitutional rights. Fortunately, that movement exists and is growing daily. I applaud the lawyers, the judge, and the organizers on the ground who helped make this decision the first of many to follow.”

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The “corporations are not persons” argument gained considerable traction when the Occupy movement declined to separate its grievances into a laundry list of single issues and instead declared that America’s central problem is corporations, not people, are running the show.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The combination of citizen organizing and increased awareness on the part of judges and attorneys promises to return to common usage the language that courts once used to keep corporations subservient; language such as that found in decisions from Ohio and New York:

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line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The State ex rel. v. The C.N.O. & T.P. Ry. Co., The State ex rel. v. The C.W. & B. Ry. Co., 47 OS 130 (1890) Ohio Supreme Court line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Mike Ferner is a writer and activist from Ohio. Contact him at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net
 

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