Want to Violate Exxon Corporation’s Constitutional "Rights"? It’s Easy. Just Open an Investigation!

Paul Cienfuegos’ June 28th, 2016 Commentary on KBOO Evening News


(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes. Listen to this one HERE.)


Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. My apologies if you’ve missed my commentaries the last two weeks. I’ve been having terrible computer problems on the road that made it impossible to meet my weekly deadlines. I’ve got it all fixed now. Sorry about that!


Here’s a recent story about oil companies and corporate constitutional so-called “rights” that you may have missed, as it wasn’t widely reported. Although you may have heard the first part of the story, which is that the directors of the big oil companies continue to resist the increasingly vocal call for a full transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. But have you ever asked yourself why corporate directors are allowed to ignore the rising chorus of voices demanding that the oil companies radically change course? The answer, believe it or not, is corporate constitutional “rights”. All of the oil companies exercise these rights in a myriad of ways.


For example, their boards of directors have the authority to make key societal decisions about energy policy because the corporate decision-making process itself is considered an intangible property right of a corporate person. Yes, that’s right. Not even the President of the United States, not even the governors or legislatures, not even the Attorney General, has the authority to stop the oil company boards of directors from continuing to “Drill Baby Drill”. Corporate boards of directors have the legal authority to make whatever decisions they wish to make - even those that will guarantee catastrophic climate destabilization - simply because the corporation is allowed to exercise its intangible property rights as a corporate person, thanks to the Supreme Court.


A few months ago, attorneys general from a number of states came together to subpoena internal documents from Exxon Corporation to investigate whether Exxon’s directors misled the public on climate science over the past few decades. Specifically, they accused Exxon of defrauding the government and consumers, and “misrepresenting its knowledge of the likelihood that its products and activities have contributed and are contributing to climate change.”


In response, Exxon’s directors filed their own lawsuit to block the subpoena, claiming that the order violates the company’s constitutional “rights”. “Defendant's actions violate Exxon’s constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law...”. Exxon’s complaint further states that the Attorney General’s inquiry will have a “chilling effect” on Exxon’s ability to engage in the climate change debate, and “discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate.”


They even ran a full page ad in the New York Times on May 18, with the headline, “Abuse of Power: All Americans have the right to support causes they believe in.” The ad goes on to say, “The right to speak out is among the most fundamental principles of American democracy. It should never be taken away. Yet, around the country, a group of state attorneys general have launched a misguided effort to silence the views and voices of those who disagree with them.”


Let’s unpack this outrageous series of claims from Exxon’s lawyers. First, in a truly democratic society, a corporation would have no constitutionally protected rights whatsoever. It would have only the privileges granted to it in its operating charter, also known as its Articles of Incorporation. (Which was actually the law of the land till the late 1800’s.) Let’s not forget - a corporation is merely a business structure. You can’t take a photograph of a corporation because it doesn’t exist in the material world. It’s a mind-made concept, like the number 6. If I set up a debate between you and the number 6, you’d think I was nuts, right? But that’s exactly what’s being argued here. A corporation doesn’t have views, doesn’t have a voice, doesn’t even have a mouth.


And the idea that government officials should not be allowed to investigate a business corporation's activities because that would violate the corporation’s “freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law” - this is a truly mind-blowing legal argument, and it’s terrifying to imagine the courts granting this new right. And yet, if history is any guide, the Supreme Court will grant this new constitutional “right” to Exxon Corporation sometime in the next few years, and then government investigations, and subpoenas of corporate documents, will be a thing of the past. Can we afford to head down that path? I say “No”! And it’s high time that We the People put an end to this silliness.


Want to learn more about how climate activists can become more effective in challenging the oil companies, so that this sort of thing is never allowed to happen? Check out the nationally broadcast speech I gave in Minneapolis last year, titled “We the People Standing Together to Protect Our Climate: Lessons From the Community Rights Movement”. You can read it on my website HERE.


You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can sign up for my ‘Community Rights Updates’ at PaulCienfuegos.com. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for.

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