by Mike Ferner, http://www.poclad.org
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "The
right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall
not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable
cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
What has this got to do with a rail shipment of leaking radioactive
waste on its way from the Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant near Charlevoix,
Michigan to the nuclear waste dump at Barnwell, South Carolina?
Furthermore, what's it got to do with my getting arrested recently,
in Walbridge, Ohio?
When Consumer's Power Co. in Michigan had wrung all the possible
profits out of its Big Rock Point reactor, it shut it down and
"decommissioned" the 580,000-pound, stainless steel
reactor vessel that had been bombarded with radiation for over
30 years. Barnwell is the only place in the nation that accepts
this kind of radioactive garbage, and Walbridge is on the CSX
Corp. rail line between there and Michigan.
As the train crept along its route through cities and farms, it
leaked a little radiation here and a little radiation there; none
of it requested by people or nature in its path; all of it cumulative
in its health effects. In Walbridge, it made an unscheduled overnight
stop, irradiating that village a little more than most.
Just how much radiation leaked from the shipment we'll never know,
since the only figures kept on it come from Consumer's Power Co.
Even the public's toothless lapdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
can't find out without first getting permission from the electric
company. And that's where the 4th Amendment and my arrest come
These days, many more people are becoming aware that over the
past 100+ years, the U.S. Supreme Court has given corporations
an increasing number of Constitutional rights intended for flesh-and-blood
persons. They recognize the name for this nefarious usurpation
of our rights as "corporate personhood."
Coincidentally, it was lawyers arguing for a railroad company,
Southern Pacific Railroad, in an 1886 case against Santa Clara
(Calif.) County, who first succeeded in convincing the U.S. Supreme
Court that for purposes of the equal protection provisions of
the 14th Amendment (passed, by the way, to protect slaves freed
in the Civil War), corporations should be considered legal "persons."
With the floodgates so opened, one right after another was extended
to these aggregations of property in the corporate form.
In 1906 (Hale v. Henkel), the Court nullified a grand jury subpoena
issued to compel tobacco companies to produce documents in a price
fixing investigation, saying it violated the companies' "rights"
against unreasonable searches and seizures. In 1978 (in Marshall
v. Barlow's Inc.), the Court said that the federal Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could not inspect the
company's workplace without first securing a search warrant.
So there we were in Walbridge, Ohio looking across 350 feet of
private property at the reactor vessel sitting in a CSX Corp.
rail yard, recording the slightly elevated readings registering
on our radiation monitors. We knew the radiation dose would increase
the closer we got to the cask, but to do so we would need permission
from the legal "person" known as CSX Corp. If that legal
fiction didn't have to let the NRC monitor it without a warrant,
it certainly wasn't going to allow me.
And isn't that the way the rule of law works? Grind up workers
on the job, bury the amber waves of grain in asphalt, irradiate
the countryside, send a generation off to war -- and by and large,
it's all legal. But try to see how much radioactive poison a rail
cask is leaking, and son, you're going to jail!
That's why I couldn't just stand there on the side of the road
in Walbridge, being a nice, law-abiding citizen. Nice, law-abiding
citizens had stood by the side of the road for the last 100 years
and watched as corporations became persons and took 14th Amendment
rights, and 4th Amendment rights, and 1st Amendment rights --
and used them to run our society and govern our nation.
So instead, I turned to Kevin Kamps from the Nuclear Information
and Resource Service (or NIRS; see www.nirs.org) and asked him
if he wanted to get arrested. He answered "yes" and
attorney Terry Lodge said he'd represent us. With monitors in
hand, and carrying a banner that read "End the Atom Age,"
Kevin and I strode through briars and mud towards the train. As
we suspected, our readings jumped as we got closer. But when we
reached the cask, the railroad cops were waiting with handcuffs
and hauled us away before we could get a final reading.
We will plead innocent to misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass
and demand a jury trial. We will see what our fellow citizens
have to say about the 4th Amendment, leaking nuke trains and corporate
There's a new tool we may employ in our defense, one that looks
promising for citizens who want to redefine what kind of commerce
comes to their towns. It's called the "Model Legal Brief
to Eliminate Corporate Rights." It is available on the web
and also at http://rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=321.
The Model Legal Brief was written by Richard Grossman, founder
of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD), Tom
Linzey, president of the Community Environmental Legal Defense
Fund (www.celdf.org), and Dan Brannen, a Santa Fe (N.M.) attorney.
The brief begins with a "Preface" that lets activists
know right off that this is not your grandfather's legal brief:
"This Brief is intended to assist communities organizing
to challenge the United States government's gift of constitutional
powers to property organized as corporations. Accordingly, this
Brief is NOT about corporate responsibility, corporate accountability,
corporate ethics, corporate codes of conduct, good corporate 'citizenship,'
corporate crime, corporate reform, consumer protection, fixing
regulatory agencies, or stakeholders."
In the "Summary of Argument," the brief clearly states
who's supposed to be running the show:
"...[T]he people of these United States -- the source of
all governing authority in this nation -- created governments
to secure the people's inalienable right that the many should
govern, not the few. That guarantee -- of a republican form of
government -- provides the foundation for securing people's other
inalienable rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)
and vindicates the actions of people and communities seeking to
secure those rights."
One of the brief's assets is that, while it undoubtedly will inform
legal decisions to come, it also becomes a useful educational
tool for today's activists by succinctly answering the perennial
question, "How did we get into this mess?" It makes
clear how corporations are supposed to fit into U.S. society,
just how they became insubordinate, and who contributed to their
delinquency at key moments.
"Corporations are created by State governments through the
chartering process. As such, corporations are subordinate, public
entities that cannot usurp the authority that the sovereign people
have delegated to the three branches of government. Corporations
thus lack the authority to deny people's inalienable rights, including
their right to a republican form of government, and public officials
lack the authority to empower corporations to deny those rights."
"Over the past 150 years," Grossman, Linzey and Brannen
write, "the Judiciary has 'found' corporations within the
people's documents that establish a frame of governance for this
nation, including the United States Constitution. In doing so,
Courts have illegitimately bestowed upon corporations immense
constitutional powers of the Fourteenth, First, Fourth, and Fifth
Amendments, and the expansive powers afforded by the Contracts
and Commerce Clauses."
It then cites chapter and verse of when and how the judiciary
"found" corporations in our governing documents. It's
clear that human beings -- federal judges to be exact -- agreed
over time with people generally of their own social class --corporate
attorneys -- that greater rights should be extended to property
organized in the corporate form. I've described above how that
worked for the 4th Amendment. The brief gives you the whole ball
The next three sentences of the Summary cut like a laser to the
heart of the problems facing us today. "Wielding those constitutional
rights and freedoms, corporations regularly and illegitimately
deny the people their inalienable rights, including their most
fundamental right to a republican form of government. Such denials
are beyond the authority of the corporation to exercise. Such
denials are also beyond the authority of the Courts, or any other
branches of government, to confer."
And it ends with an appeal that, with enough organizing in the
streets, will once again be recognized in the courtrooms of our
land: "Accordingly, the constitutional claims asserted by
the [x corporation] against [y government] must be dismissed because
those claims deny the people's rights to life and liberty, and
their fundamental right to self-governance."
Such is our hope and our life's work.
Ferner (email@example.com) served two terms as an independent member
of the Toledo, Ohio, City Council, 1989-93. Before that, he was
an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees (AFSCME). From 1969 to 1973 he served in the
U.S. Navy Hospital Corps. He is one of 13 individuals who make
up the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD).
From 1970 to 1995, the environmental and labor movements in the
U.S. often focused on the failures of government to protect human
health and the environment. Today it is safe to say --thanks to
POCLAD's work -- most of us understand that "the corporation"
lies near the heart of most major problems.
In POCLAD's view, "Giant corporations govern, even though
they are mentioned nowhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights.
So when corporations govern, democracy is nowhere to be found.
There is something else: when people live in a culture defined
by corporate values, common sense evaporates. We stop trusting
our own eyes, ears, and feelings. Our minds become colonized.
POCLAD invites you to work with us to change this." http://www.poclad.org
People are challenging corporate "rights" in many ways.
In Pennsylvania, attorney Tom Linzey of the Community Environmental
Legal Defense Fund is challenging corporate rights in court.
Take a look at http://www.celdef.org
In New Jersey, legislation has been drafted -- See: http://rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=324
In Ohio, people are making films, writing books, and much more:
History shows us that there is no silver bullet for these deep
problems. What did it take to end slavery, gain the vote for women,
and get working people what rights they've got? Education, pamphleteering,
organizing, ballot initiatives, marches, demonstrations, protests,
strikes, creative legal work and -- yes -- civil disobedience.
Hats off to POCLAD and to Mike Ferner! --