If Corporations are People, Do They Count as Passengers in Carpool Lanes?

Monday, January 07, 2013
Jonathan Frieman

The argument that corporations are people has been famously made by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney—“Corporations are people, too, my friend” —and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2010 landmark Citizens United case that unleashed untold millions of dollars in dark money on the U.S. political system.


Now, Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, California, wants to use the principle in defense of his right to cruise the carpool lane without an actual living, breathing human being in the seat next to him. Or, if that fails, establish at least one judicial outpost that doesn’t recognize corporate personhood.


Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations and unions, equating corporations with people. The principle has potentially many applications.


In December 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District cited the case when determining that a corporation could get a waiver from the Affordable Care Act because its religious beliefs prevent it from covering employees’ birth control costs.


Frieman, a lawyer and nonprofit consultant, was ticketed in October for driving in the carpool lane during restricted hours, and failed to sway the police officer by waving his papers of incorporation and claiming the company’s company as sufficient qualification under the law. His appearance in traffic court is scheduled for today.


Section 21655.5 of the state Vehicle Code, under which Frieman was cited, states that “no person shall drive a vehicle upon lanes except in conformity with the instructions imparted by the official traffic control devices.”


But Section 470 of the code defines a “person” to include “a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation.”


Frieman’s attorney, Ford Greene, told a reporter for the Bay Area News Group that “when a corporation is present in one’s car, it is sufficient to qualify as a two-person occupancy for commuter lane purposes.”


Frieman clearly hopes to strike a blow against “imaginary entities” that have been permitted by the courts to “run wild,” but to do that he might have to lose the case. “Their [corporations] original intent 200 years ago at the dawn of our nation was to serve human beings. So I'm wresting back that power by making their personhood serve me,” Friedman sarcastically wrote in a press release.


But he still probably wouldn’t mind winning the case. The fine is $478.

-Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Frieman Contests Carpool Violation, Corporate Personhood . . . (by Jason Walsh, Marin Pacific Sun)

Corporate Personhood Advances—in Carpool Lane (by Josh Richman, Bay Area News Group)

Corporations and Carpools (by Tim Redmond, San Francisco Bay Guardian)

Appeals Court Panel, 2-1, Rules Catholic Company Doesn’t Have to Provide Contraception for Employees (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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