Carpool Lane Guy

Challenging Corporate Personhood


Who is the Carpool Lane Guy?

Jonathan Frieman is a community advocate from the San Francisco Bay Area who made national headlines by battling a traffic ticket he received on Oct 2, 2012 driving his diesel station wagon in the carpool lane with a stack of incorporation papers at his side.

Jonathan was found guilty as charged at his Marin County Traffic Court hearing on January 7th, as expected. Jonathan and his attorney Ford Greene then appealed this determination.

When he is not driving the carpool lane trying to get ticketed, Jonathan is a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of several public interest corporations, including the JoMiJo Foundation and the Center for Corporate Policy. See his Bio under the About menu.

After hosting a series of strategy conferences to address the legal structure of corporations, Jonathan helped found the Center for Corporate Policy -- a nonprofit, non-partisan public interest corporation -- that investigated the legal structure of corporations so as to curb corporate abuses, hold corporations publicly accountable, and compel them to invest in a sustainable future.

Why should I care about Jonathan Frieman’s carpool battle?

Jonathan is helping to expand a crucial movement to challenge the extent of power that corporations have over our planet.

Jonathan’s carpool ticket battle is the latest challenge to the absurdity of our country’s corporate personhood laws. He appealed his traffic citation on the grounds that he was legally allowed to drive in the carpool lane because the second person in the car with him was a corporation.

Legal challenges like this open the door to future lawsuits that could create new case law challenging the assumptions embedded in existing case law that inaccurately assign personhood to corporations.

What are the legal grounds for his appeal?

Jonathan and his attorney are arguing that, technically, under California state law, when a corporation is represented in some way in one's car, it qualifies the vehicle as being occupied by two persons for commuter lane purposes.

This argument bears legal scrutiny because, under California Vehicle Code §470, the definition of a person includes "natural persons and corporations." Highway signs throughout Marin County and the state say, “Carpools Only 2 or More Persons Per Vehicle.”

Why did Jonathan decide to become the Carpoollane Guy?

Jonathan wished to expand and inspire activism that challenges the extent of power that corporations have over our planet.

What was the Carpool Guy’s next step?

Jonathan and his attorney appealed his guilty verdict to the Marin County Superior Court. The lost the appeal there and were turned down at the Court of Appeal level. One can imagine that the Court of Appeal did not want to make a narrow decision which meant that 1) corporations are not persons for the purpose of the carpool lane, or 2) make a decision which would result in not only rewriting state law, but also result in new road signs being replaced all over the state.

Why did he going to all this trouble to argue that a corporation was his passenger? Doesn’t it cost more to hire an attorney than it does to just pay the $478 ticket?

Jonathan did not contest his traffic ticket for the sake of avoiding a $478 fine. He entered into this caper in an effort to expose the absurdity of corporate personhood, and to raise important questions about what it means to be human. We should ask "Who exactly should we be extending important legal protections to, and who should we be treating as human beings?

Which corporation was riding shotgun in Jonathan’s car?

Jonathan had the articles of incorporation for his nonprofit corporation, the JoMiJo Foundation, in the passenger seat of his car with him at the time of the citation. The JoMiJo Foundation is a family foundation that provides financial support for grassroots efforts aimed at social change.

What is Citizens United?

On January 21, 2010, the U .S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission by a 5-4 decision, that restrictions on corporate expenditures in elections contained in the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known as BCRA or “McCain-Feingold”) violated the First Amendment protections of free speech.

The original question in Citizens United was whether a PAC could spend funds in a political race before the 60-day period preior to an election day. That is, could a PAC spend funds in Lay when an election was in November, because the law said PAC's could spend funds only in September and October. But the conservative justices of the Supreme Court performed one of the most audacious and outrageous ____of judicial activism in their history: they broadened the case's purview in order to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds from their treasury in U.S. elections--not just from their PAC's--because their corporate personhood granted them the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech. This represents the largest expansion of corporate personhood to date. The concept of personhood for corporations in the US has been around for more than 200 years.

After that decision, in the 2012 U.S. election cycle, corporations spent unprecedented amounts of money on campaigns and committees. In response, over 100 communities across the nation passed ballot initiatives in November of 2012 to amend the U.S. Constitution and reverse the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.

What is Corporate Personhood?

“Corporate Personhood” is a legal concept, also known as a “legal fiction,” legally guaranteed certain constitutional protections for corporations since the early 1800's. Corporate personhood allows an organization of people to be considered as one person when they act collectively./em>

Under this legal rhetoric, corporations have been able to sue and be sued in court in the same manner that natural persons or unincorporated associations of persons can.

The first corporations in the early 1800's were powerless--they were mere investment tools for the construction of roads and canals. They could only work in the state in which they were incorporated; only "lived" for perhaps 10 or 15 years; they were responsible for cleaning up their mess; they couldn't give to politics; and their stockholders were directly liable for their transgressions. Very few corporations manufactured goods at that time. The word “person” in the 14th Amendment in 1868 led to a rapid building up of their powers.

Over the past three decades, the fabrication of corporate rights have allowed corporations increased opportunity to legally strike down democratically-enacted laws in environmental, health care, consumer rights and civil rights sectors – specifically through the development of a set of legal rights under state and federal statues that have granted corporations protections under the First Amendment.

Is the Carpool Guy trying to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision?

No. The point of contesting the traffic fine is to generate greater understanding, in a humorous way, that personhood for a fictional entity is absurd. California state law says a person can be a human being and also can be a corporation, but inconsistently punishes drivers who rely on the language of the law in order to travel with a corporation, such as Frieman did.

Who else is involved in this movement, and are they available to speak to the media?

Some of the nation’s top legal and political professionals are available to talk with reporters about their take on Jonathan’s challenge to corporate personhood. Frieman's case was mentioned in Ciara Torres-Spelliscy's book "Corporate Citizen? An Argument for the Separation of Corporation and State (Carolina Academic Press, 2016). See also Adam Winkler's "We the Corporations."

How can I get involved?

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