Frieman contests carpool violation, corporate personhood
by Jason Walsh
A lone Marin driver’s naughty sneak into the carpool lane could spell the end of corporate personhood as we know it—or at least that’s San Rafael resident Jonathan Frieman’s plan, as he heads to Marin Superior Court next week to challenge a traffic violation and, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Frieman was heading south on Highway 101 through Novato on Oct. 2 when he was cited for violating California vehicle code 21655.5, which prohibits drivers from entering unauthorized vehicle lanes—in Frieman’s case, being a solo occupant in a lane requiring two or more persons. But Frieman plans to contest the $478 violation in court on Jan. 7, arguing that he had corporate incorporation papers in his car at the time and, he says, the state vehicle code views corporations as persons—therefore he and his corporation constituted a two-person carpool.
According to a press release from Kathleen Russell Consulting, the Mill Valley-based firm handling publicity for Frieman’s quest for justice, state vehicle code 470’s definition of a person includes “natural persons and corporations.”
If he loses in court on Monday, continues the press release, Frieman says he is prepared to appeal the ca se all the way to the Supreme Court “in an effort to expose the impracticality of corporate personhood.”
"Corporations are imaginary entities, and we've let them run wild," says Frieman. "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."
The concept of corporate personhood has been an ongoing controversy for years—but it hit the mainstream in 2010 following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which held that restricting political expenditures by corporations was a violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech. Implicit in such a ruling, some argue, is that the Constitution grants protections to corporations as if they were people.
Representing Frieman is attorney Ford Greene—he, too, says the state vehicle code treats a person and a corporation as equivalent.
"When a corporation is present in one's car, it is sufficient to qualify as a two-person occupancy for commuter lane purposes," says Greene, who’s also a San Anselmo city councilmember. "When the corporate presence in our electoral process is financially dominant, by parity it appears appropriate to recognize such presence in an automobile."
Also unclear: If Frieman's ticket is dismissed on the grounds that he and the corporation constitute a carpool--could the San Rafael activist then be fined for driving with an un-seat-belted passenger?
Frieman’s court appearance takes place Monday at 3pm at the Marin Superior Court, 3501 Civic Center Drive in San Rafael.