Here’s a bit of mildly interesting mélange of events for you. First, it goes without saying that the Citizens United decision gets smellier the longer it remains unflushed in the toilet of our legislative process. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the largest businesses should be recognized as part of the legislative process, and should be held to the checks and balances that the branches of the federal government are held to. This is a digression.
What happened was, apparently some guy in California conjured up the bright idea to drive around in various carpool lanes with a certificate of incorporation in his glove box until a police officer pulled him over (I damn near had a seizure when I saw that the fine for illegal carpool use in California is $490). Hijinks ensued. And it’s… well, like I said: mildly interesting.
A hearty congratulations this morning to one Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, California. We realize it’s only January but as far as we’re concerned this Frieman guy has already won the entire year of 2013 for executing a rather brilliant prank on the textualist wing of the Supreme Court.
His plan was as simple as it was brilliant: Frieman just drove around in one of California’s carpool lanes by himself until he eventually was stopped by police for not having an additional person in the car. (Sidenote: Apparently carpool laws are enforced rather loosely in California. It took Frieman over 10 years of driving around like that before he was finally ticketed.) Once Frieman was finally pulled over, he handed the officer a certificate of incorporation and voila!! According to the Supreme Court’s own precedent, Frieman suddenly had two “people” in his vehicle. Obviously, the officer still gave him the $481 ticket, so today Frieman is heading to traffic court to argue his case.
Bloody. Brilliant. Props and respect to Frieman.
For those of you who don’t know, Citizens United is an ill-conceived bill that puts the extrajudicial power of regulating businesses into the hands of the very businesses that are supposed to be regulated. The bill basically says that the US gubmint cannot tell corporations who they can or cannot donate their money to. And they’re right (Iguess… if you read amendment one, it doesn’t really say anything about lobbying. But there’s a long history of case law which explicitly describes the act of donating money as an expression, and thus a form of speech). But, the sticky situation is that money in this country is power – and by extension, it’s the power to increase the chances that certain laws get passed, or stifled. Banks and shareholders are in fact businesses which command the most amount of liquid monies on the planet, and thus the most amount of power. Should the government be able to tell businesses (banks and shareholders) what they can or cannot do with their money? If so, can the federal gubmint also tell small business owners what to do with their money as well? What about unions? Where do we draw the line? You get the idea.
Does Citizens United create a conflict of interest? Uh, yah. It’s probably constitutionally sound, I’ll admit – the first amendment as sacred as it is. But there’s no doubt that something has to be done. No doubt that you’ve rabble-roused this issue an unquantifiable number of times in the past, so we don’t have to go there. Enter Frieman.
What this cat in California is essentially planning, is to embarrass the heck out of the SC – it’s probably not going anywhere (SC gets to choose which cases they hear, and I’d bet my lucky jockstrap that they’re going to be staying as far away from this sucker as they can).
Oh, and just to add a little fun: I’m completely in the gray on this issue. My initial knee-jerk reaction was to holler and scream and throw tantrums at the prospect of businesses being considered the same as people (which is pretty darn ridiculous) but I value the first amendment more than… well, more than anything. Probably even more than my own life (not hyperbole). I guess before I can declare a clear position on the issue, I have to parse the fifteen or so court decisions that have to do with lobbying and the first amendment, and then I have to decide whether or not I agree with it. Still, I’m leaning toward congress having to come to the realization (or at least admit publicly) that the business lobby is the primary way laws get passed nowadays – and that’s just too much power for one aspect of the process to have. So, I suppose I have to try and figure out where we should draw that line. I don’t want Ma’ and Pa’ restaurant owner getting boned, either. There’s a reason this is such a tough issue. But I wish Frieman luck, and I extend my respect to him for raising a very pressing concern.
Shane Lindemoen is an American author, journalist, and an occasional literary critic; he is also the National Affairs editor of Secret Laboratory. Shane is a self-described “poor white boy from the east side who happens to read about politics and stuff.” He published his novel, Empire Dirt, in 2008. Visit Shane at www.shanelindemoen.com.
E-mail Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.