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Pennsylvania Court Deals Blow to Secrecy-Obsessed Fracking Industry: Corporations Not The Same As Persons With Privacy Rights

“In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.”

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The judge said the U.S. Constitution’s 14 th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution. “The exact opposite is derived from plan language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

“Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution,” the Court held. “The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal ‘[a]ll charters of private corporations’ and any ‘powers, duties or liabilities’ of corpoeations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and siezure of property, but that’s not the same as a right to personal privacy. “Our Commonwealth’s case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from out laws.”

And looking at case law and rulings from other states, it held, “This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and siezures in a criminal matter.”

Summing up, the Court said “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 like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tendm prune and their pleasure and need.”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s Linzey said that this ruling will affect other anti-fracking litigation in state court, but more importantly is a landmark in the ongoing community rights movement to elevate public values over private profits.

“It is that disobedience, of entire communities sitting at lunch counters demanding to be served, that is our only hope of salvation in a world increasingly commandeered by a small handful of corporate decisionmakers intent on remaking the world as their own,” he said. “A revolution that subordinates the powers and rights of corporations to the rights of people and nature now waits in the wings.”

“Judge O'Dell Seneca is on the right side of history,” said Bonifaz. “She has clearly articulated what millions of people across this country understand: that people, not corporations, shall govern in America. Judge O'Dell Seneca’s ruling provides further legal support for the national movement for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy and to make clear that corporations are not people with constitutional rights.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).