Corporate personhood advances – in carpool lane

Corporate personhood takes a new leap forward Monday as a Marin County motorist challenges his traffic ticket by arguing it was OK to drive in the carpool lane because his corporation was with him.

Jonathan Frieman, a local activist and nonprofit consultant, was ticketed Oct. 2 for driving in the carpool lane during restricted hours; the officer apparently wasn’t impressed when Frieman showed him his incorporation papers. A traffic court hearing is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

The fine for such a violation is $478, but Frieman, 59, of San Rafael, says that if the court rules against him Monday, he’s prepared to appeal the case all the way to the California Supreme Court in an effort to expose the impracticality of corporate personhood.

Corporate personhood, of course, has been at the heart of the ongoing debate over campaign finance ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling unleashed a torrent of corporate contributions.

“Corporations are imaginary entities, and we’ve let them run wild,” Frieman said in a news release. “Their 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.”

California Vehicle Code section 470 defines a “person” as “a natural person, firm, copartnership, association, limited liability company, or corporation.” Section 21655.5, 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.”

Ford Greene, Frieman’s attorney and a San Anselmo councilman, said the Vehicle Code makes “person” and “corporation” equivalent, so “when a corporation is present in one’s car, it is sufficient to qualify as a two-person occupancy for commuter lane purposes. When the corporate presence in our electoral process is financially dominant, by parity it appears appropriate to recognize such presence in an automobile.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    Makes perfect sense to me. Good to see some sense of humor while trying to make a serious point.

    If corporations have personhood status, does that mean you can’t liquidate a failing company. Wouldn’t that be murder? Or suicide?

  • John

    So he relocated the corporation into the vehicle? Did he get permits and pay the appropriate license fees and corporate taxes in the various municipalities that the corporation traveled through?

  • DanvilleDemocrat


  • Elwood

    Tell it to the judge.

    And rots o’ ruck!

  • JAFO

    “If the law is on your side, argue the law. If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If neither is on your side, pound the table.” I think we can safely assume that Mr. Frieman and Mr. Greene will engaging in a lot of table pounding on this one. What a joke, not to mention a waste of the court’s time.

  • John W

    Once this is rejected by the humble traffic court, it’s hard to imagine that it would be taken up by an appellate court. But it would be interesting and fun to see this argued in, say, a California law school moot court.

    Think about how long it has taken the higher federal courts to shut down the bat-crazy birther arguments of the mad Moldvian lawyer/dentist, Orly Taitz.

  • Elwood

    If I have my six foot invisible rabbit friend Harvey with me, can I drive in the car pool lane?

  • Stephen Montgomery

    Either corporations are people or they aren’t. Good he is forcing the point. It’ll be interesting to see how the court rules. Frieman is right in observing the fallacies in the thinking behind the law and the courts in treating abstract entities as “people.”

    How could a reasonable person think the forefathers in drafting the First Amendment thought free speech meant organizations with huge sums of money could anonymously buy TV time so actors could tell clever lies and distortions to satisfy their special interests while not taking responsibility for such, uh, stuff.

  • Elwood

    Some people seem to be unclear on the concept of SCOTUS.

    They’re not final because they’re right, they’re right because they’re final.

  • Matt

    Citizens United was decided in 2010, not 2011 as stated.

  • Publius

    This witty little progressive is right. The Citizens United ruling has really given the Corporation the upper hand here in California. Thank God we have a Dem super majority.

  • Johnny B.

    That’s a clever stunt, but I have a feeling any success he has will be in changing the vehicle code instead of the definition of corporate personhood.

  • John W

    Re: #11

    I would agree that California is not ground zero for the consequences of Citizens United, at least not yet. Give it time.

    But corporate political muscle is not exactly unheard of even here in blue-ish California. Granted, the overall business climate sucks. But there are plenty of corporate special interests that get their way (or I should say, “who get their way,” since they are people). PG&E and the insurance industry come to mind. We don’t have the severance tax that every other oil-producing state has, including the socialist Republic of Texas. The Prop. 13 loophole that enables property owned by corporations to escape reassessment when sold wasn’t an “oversight.”

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    JAFO is right (5). This “local activist” is a well- meaning idiot whose legal advice comes straight out of Comedy Central.

  • JAFO

    Re: #13

    California is “blue-ish?” Seriously? You’re too observant to really believe that. The only reliably red thing in California these days, and for the foreseeable future, is the state budget. California will be “true-blue” for decades to come.

  • John W

    Re: 15

    Yes, “blue-ish.” I’m not denying which party has the statewide numbers and control of government. But go to Politco.com and click on the 2012 election results tab. Then click on California in the U.S. red/blue map. If you just look at the U.S. map, California shows up all deep blue. But click on California, and you see that about half the counties are red. I’m sure you already knew that. But think of it this way.

    If 30% of the CA voting age population (registered or not) identifies as conservative, that’s about 7 million people. That’s not enough to win statewide elections. But can you think of another state that has 7 million voting age people who identify as conservative? Well, Texas. But that’s about it.

  • JAFO

    I’ll bet you can also find a few brave, self-described conservative voters in San Francisco and Berkeley. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll ever be able to describe those cities as “blue-ish.”

  • John W

    “Blue-ish” means not “red-ish” or “purple-ish.” So, I’m not sure why you are arguing the point. The “ish” is simply my way of saying that, with some exceptions, characterizing a whole state or region as “red” or “blue” is a real over-simplification.

    Kansas, where I spent several years of my youth, is a good example. Kansas is as red as California is blue. All four Congressmen are tea-party Right, as are the governor and attorney general. Yet, there has been a real battle between moderate and very conservative Republicans in the legislature. Prior to the current governor, the two-term elected governor was non other than Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

    Or look at Michigan, where I spent my high school and college years. Always considered a “liberal” and “big labor” state. But it’s really blue in Wayne County (Detroit) and in the university towns and conservative in Grand Rapids and most of the remaining “out state.” State government is in Republican control these days, but Michigan (Romney’s home state) went for Obama.

    Or take Paul Ryan’s congressional district in Wisconsin. He won re-election by a wide margin while also running for VP. But both his district and his hometown of Janesville voted for Obama.

  • Elwood

    ” But click on California, and you see that about half the counties are red.”

    If only cows could vote!

  • John W

    Re: 19

    So, you’re saying that McCintock’s constituents are of the mooing bovine variety?

  • Josh Richman

    @#19-20: “Something in the way she moos/ attracts me like no udder lover…”

  • JAFO

    I wish they could as well, Elwood. In that case, we might actually have an outside chance of again electing a conservative US senator from this “blue” state. In the meantime, Bab’s and DiFi’s “true-blue” seats are rock solid, so long as they want them. After that, the pipeline is full of voracious and highly-electable, if not highly-qualified, dems who will be able to count on the fact that cows will be allowed to vote, right after they earn their pilots’ licenses. John W may slice and dice political demographics anyway he wants, but it only reminds me of the old line about the frog who finds himself with one leg in freezing (blue) water and the other in boiling (red) water. However, he’s not too worried because, on balance, his body temperature is about average (purple-ish).

  • Elwood

    @ Josh #21

    Be ashamed.

    Be very ashamed.

  • JAFO

    The court appropriately ignored this gadfly’s “oh-so-clever” legal arguments. The judge in the case reportedly applied the common sense reasoning that the state legislature fully intended the HOV, multiple occupant provision to apply to human passengers with body temperatures that approximate 98.6 degrees. What a refreshingly logical opinion. Obviously, a stack of incorporation papers sitting next to a driver fail to satisfy that definition. So, now this bored “genius” has that grounds he so obviously wanted on which to base his appeal. More wasted court time to come.

  • John W

    He was interviewed by Michael Finney on KGO radio Saturday morning. I didn’t hear the whole interview. But it is clear this isn’t a case of somebody trying to weasel out of a ticket. He deliberately entered the carpool lane a couple of dozen times for the specific purpose of getting caught so that he could have standing to make his argument before a court. I would call it an act of peaceful civil disobedience by somebody seeking a forum to make a point. Yes, he is a gadfly. I like gadflies, so long as I agree with their point of view!

    As for the judge’s “refreshingly logical opinion,” too bad the Supremes didn’t apply the same in deciding that corporations are people or in deciding that the first 13 words of the 27-word 2nd Amendment don’t count.

  • Elwood

    Final, right, no.

    Right, final, yes.