A New Civil Rights Movement:
Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control A Pennsylvania Judge Holds That Corporations Are Not “Persons” Under the Pennsylvania Constitution
B y Thomas Alan Linzey, Esq., Executive Director
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Last week, a Pennsylvania county court gave this new movement a boost – declaring that corporations are not “persons” under the Pennsylvania Constitution, and therefore, that corporations cannot elevate their “private rights” above the rights of people.
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In a landmark ruling, President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca of the Washington County Court of Common Pleas denied the corporation’s request on the basis that the Pennsylvania Constitution only protects the rights of people, not business entities.
In the ruling, Judge O’Dell-Seneca declared that “in the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” If corporations could claim rights independent from people, she asserted, then “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.”
She further found that “the constitution vests in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, [corporations] cannot assert [constitutional privacy] protections because they are not mentioned in its text.”
Judge O’Dell-Seneca cited sections of the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution in support of her contention that corporations were never intended to be constitutionally protected “persons.” She declared that “an even more dubious proposition is that the framers of the Constitution of 1776, given their egalitarian sympathies, would have concerned themselves with vesting, for the first time in history, indefeasible rights in such entities. . . that language extends only to natural persons.”
Finally, she tackled the very nature of corporations by declaring that “it is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have no ‘spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ‘emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists. . . They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”
Judge rules in newspapers’ favor in Hallowich-Range case
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The natural gas companies “have failed to oppose (the) press’ motion to unseal the record under” case law,” O’Dell Seneca wrote.
Corporations, companies and partnership have no spiritual nature, feelings, intellect, beliefs, thoughts, emotions or
sensations because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists … They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend and prune at their pleasure and need.
“Therefore, this court must grant those motions and reverse (Pozonsky’s) Aug. 23, 2011, order, unless a higher authority forestalls the common law’s application.”
The decision became the responsibility of O’Dell Seneca after the state Superior Court said Pozonsky erred in ordering that the Hallowich case “be sealed indefinitely in its entirety” without first holding a hearing. The appellate court sent the case back to Washington County court in December, nearly six months after Pozonsky resigned from the bench amid reports of a state grand jury investigation.
“It was a scholarly opinion that weighed the constitutional issues and came down on the side of the public’s right to know,” Fitch said of O’Dell Seneca’s 32-page opinion and order.
“After all, this is a taxpayer-funded court that exists to serve the public. Unless there is a serious privacy issue, the presumption of openness applies and the record should be open to both the public and the press,” he continued.
O’Dell Seneca discussed the press’ and the public’s right of access: “The press’ investigative role is itself a
constitutional and common law bulwark, safeguarding the courts from lapsing into the clandestine abuse found in PA Childcare LLC, known as the Luzerne County Cash for Kids scandal,” Judge O’Dell Seneca wrote.
“It is not ‘mere curiosity’ as (the natural gas firms) contend.”