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Should trees, parks, rivers, whales, corporations have standing?

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — and what about straw men & sovereign citizens? ]
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Tablet DQ Trees standing

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I have long appreciated Mr Justice Douglas‘ dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), and Christopher Stone‘s comment on the same, Should Trees Have Standing? — presented along with other essays in Stone’s book of the same name [upper panel, above].

That takes care of the trees in my title. Parks and rivers are covered by the New York Times piece today, In New Zealand, Lands and Rivers Can Be People (Legally Speaking).

Whales and apes get added to our list, as you can see, in Brighter Green‘s Nature’s Rights: Rivers, Trees, Whales, and Apes — which mentions that under Ecuador’s constitution enshrining the legal rights of nature as a whole::

Ecuador stepped to the forefront of the nature’s rights movement when it became the first country to include the rights of Mother Earth (Pachamama) in its constitution, which was ratified in 2008. The document states, “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions, and its processes in evolution.” Nature is a “rights-bearing entity that should be treated with parity under the law.” Citizens are given the power to sue on behalf of nature, now a legal entity

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And corporations?

The irony here, of course, is that those who would like to see Nature get a word in edgewise in the courts as a legal Person, tend to be unhappy with corporations having the same rights as chimpanzees. Eric Posner in Slate, Stop Fussing Over Personhood, catches the irony nicely:

From a legal standpoint, there is nothing remarkable about a chimpanzee claiming to be a person. Indeed, there are a number of cases that have been brought by animals—including a palila, a marbled murrelet, and a spotted owl. All of these animals sought to enforce their rights under the Endangered Species Act, under a provision that gives “persons” the right to bring suit.

In none of these cases was a judge fooled into thinking that an animal possesses all the rights of human beings. The lawyers bringing them were simply ensuring that a judicial remedy was available to address the harm that Congress sought to fix. If the spotted owl had also asked for the right to vote, the request would have been denied. A judge wouldn’t give a hoot that an earlier court had deemed the owl a “person” under the Endangered Species Act. A person for one legal purpose is not necessarily a person for another.

The law also treats various nonhuman, nonsentient entities as “persons” for certain legal purposes. Corporations, estates, trusts, partnerships, and government entities are often defined this way. Walmart, Illinois, and the California Pension Fund can sue, for example, without anyone asking if they have a right to abortion.

The classic case here is the famous and infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here also the curious notions of personhood invoked by members of the Sovereign Citizens movement. From JM Berger‘s recent report, Without Prejudice: What Sovereign Citizens Believe:

Fictitious Person

Because the UCC provides an interstate standard for things such as driver’s licenses, property ownership, and bank accounts, many sovereigns believe that these documents (and associated laws and financial obligations) do not apply to them, but instead to a fictitious person created by the illegitimate law, sometimes referred to as a “straw man.” Some believe a fictitious person is denoted in legal documents by listing his or her name in all capital letters. The fictitious person is a legal entity akin to a company with the same name as the citizen, sovereigns believe.

Some sovereigns create their own driver’s licenses and license plates because they believe the state-issued documents are inauthentic, as they refer to the fictitious person, and that using or signing these documents exposes them to vulnerabilities under the illegitimate and tyrannical commercial laws, including debt collection, arrest, and prosecution.

The correct use of certain phrases or legal citations can reduce or eliminate these vulnerabilities, however. For instance, some believe that documents used by the illegitimate system, such as contracts or court documents, can be signed safely if the citizen appends the phrase “Without Prejudice UCC 1-308” to the signature, which they believe preserves the sovereign citizen’s common law rights and privileges.

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Let’s return to sanity.

The final word in Sierra Club vs Morton is given to Mr Justice Douglas: in a footnote, he cites John Donne, poet — and thus according to Shelley, one of the “unacknowledged legislators of the world”:

“No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Devotions XVII.

And by way of comparison, here’s a Maori expression of the same sense of extended personhood, in context from the NYT article I cited above:

A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon.

The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features.

Chris Finlayson, New Zealand’s attorney general, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. “In their worldview, ‘I am the river and the river is me,’” he said. “Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”

Justice Scalia, St Hubert, and the Stag

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — filling a gap the WaPo left behind — with Christ, crucified, between the horns of a stag ]
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Butler‘s Lives of the Saints tells us of St Hubert:

He is also said to have been passionately addicted to the diversion of hunting, and was entirely taken up in worldly pursuits, when, moved by divine grace, he resolved at once to renounce the school of vanity, and enter himself in that of Christ, in which his name had been enrolled in baptism.

That telling neatly elides the alleged mechanism by which divine grace moved him. As the image that accompanies it in the online version of the tale shows, Hubert is reported to have been out hunting one Good friday while others were at church, when a stag appeared before him carrying a crucifix betwen its horns:

St.Hubert_Ottawa_St.Patrick_RC_Basilica
St. Patrick’s Basilica, Ottawa, Canada

No wonder, then, that Hubert, moved by such grace, became the patron saint of hunters, nor that Justice Antonin Scalia is reported to have been attending a gathering associated with the knightly Order of St Hubertus at the time of his death.

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From today’s Washington Post, an article which tells us something of Justice Scalia, a fair amount about the Order of St Hubertus, and nothing about St Hubert himself alas:

When Justice Antonin Scalia died 11 days ago at a West Texas ranch, he was among high-ranking members of an exclusive fraternity for hunters called the International Order of St. Hubertus, an Austrian society that dates back to the 1600s.

For more on Justice Scalia’s death at the ranch, read the rest of the WaPo piece; for more on the Order, visit its web pages. I trust this post of mine will somewhat remedy the lack of information about St Hubert himself and his remarkable conversion in both places.

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This story is told of St Placidus:

The Holy Great Martyr Eustathius was named Placidas before his Baptism. He was a military commander under the emperors Titus (79-81) and Trajan (98-117). Even before he came to know Christ, Placidas performed acts of charity, helping the poor and destitute. Therefore, the Lord did not leave the virtuous pagan remain in the darkness of idolatry.

Once while hunting in a forest, he saw a stag which would stop now and then to look him right in the eye. Placidas pursued it on horseback, but could not catch up. The stag leaped over a chasm and stood on the other side facing him. Placidas suddenly saw a radiant Cross between its antlers. In surprise the military commander heard a voice coming from the Cross saying, “Why do you pursue Me, Placidas?”

“Who are You, Master?” asked Placidas.The Voice replied, “I am Jesus Christ, Whom you do not know, yet you honor Me by your good deeds. I have appeared here on this creature for your sake, to capture you in the net of My love for mankind. It is not fitting that one as righteous as you should worship idols and not know the truth. It was to save mankind that I came into the world.”

Placidas cried out, “Lord, I believe that You are the God of Heaven and earth, the Creator of all things. Master, teach me what I should do.” Again the Lord replied, “Go to the bishop of your country and receive Baptism from him, and he will instruct you.”

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Let the Jägermeister herbal liquor label bring us to our conclusion — and to the third saint associated with a vision of stag and crucifix:

The label on Jägermeister bottles features a glowing Christian cross seen between the antlers of a stag.

JAGERMEISTER label

This image is a reference to the two Christian patron saints of hunters, Saint Hubertus and Saint Eustace, both of whom converted to Christianity after experiencing a vision in which they saw a Christian cross between the antlers of a stag.

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St Eustace, then, is the third saint to whom the same vision is attributed. — and the one whose vision has been most gloriously celebrated in art.

Albert Durer‘s engraving of St Eustace in the Metropolitan Museum, New York:

Durer's St Eustace in the Met

Pisanello‘s St Eustace in the National Gallery, London:

Pisanello's St Eustace in the National Gallery

On the Shoulders of Giants — Merton’s OTSOG illustrated?

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I first saw the fish on @arlogilbert’s Twitter page, and I think I saw the turtle on someone’s FB? ]
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The Turtle has gotta be a giant if it’s to carry elephants and a world on its back..

SPEC turtle fish

and moving from macro to micro, the Fish had best be sizeable if it’s to carry an island and village.

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There are those who delight in the Turtle Hypothesis, but throw in a tiger atop the elephants, then extend the concept to encompass turtle upon turtle, Mr Justice Scalia (in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 [2006]. footnote 14) for instance:

In our favored version, an Eastern guru affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger. When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant; and when asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle. When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback, but quickly replies “Ah, after that it is turtles all the way down.”

Likewise, there are those who reject it, as for example David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

How can we satisfy ourselves without going on in infinitum? And, after all, what satisfaction is there in that infinite progression? Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world.

Never to look beyond the present material world?

Tsk, that’s a bit short-sighted, isn’t it?

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Which brings me to Robert K. Merton‘s brilliant book familiarly known as OTSOG, which I’ve read, and Tristram Shandy, which I haven;t but would presumably like.

As the saying goes, Odd Moves in a Mysterious Way.

I’m also reminded of the Hendrix Hedge, but that’s another story..

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Sources:

  • World on a tutle, The Science Behind Discworld’s Flat Earth on the Back of a Turtle
  • Island on a fish, Voted most likely to find a loophole

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