The Perils of Private Law
“Privilege means private law,” wrote master satirist Terry Pratchett in his brilliant novel, The Truth.
He didn’t make that up. The word “privilege” in fact derives from the Latin privilegium, from “privus” (individual or private) and “lex, legis” (law).
If you think this archaic etymology irrelevant now, think again. Right here in Oregon and in every state of our precarious union today, corporate power brokers such as ALEC and their hand-picked legislators have created PRIVATE LAWS that not only exempt corporate profiteers from the laws and Constitution of the land, but also preempt any local laws that would hold them accountable.
In Oregon, for example, privileged timber companies can fly with impunity over entire ecosystems spreading economic poisons onto communities, children, pets, livestock, wildlife, water, soil, and homes, because they have written a PRIVATE LAW saying people can neither pass local laws banning the poison spraying nor sue the poisoners for damages and deaths. When Lincoln County voters passed a measure banning aerial pesticide spraying in the county and giving the ecosystem the right to defend itself in court, Oregon courts deferred to the corporate PRIVATE LAW that preempted the local ban and denied the ecosystem’s right to defend itself.
Oregon is hardly alone in this. In all fifty states, extractive industries have written laws passed by tame legislatures that protect industry’s right to profit from clearcutting, fracking, pesticide spraying, pipeline construction, mining, nuclear waste disposal, and other deadly practices while denying people and nature any right to protect their health and safety. And in state after state, including Oregon, courts have affirmed industry’s PRIVATE LAWS protecting their right to profit over human and natural rights to protect their health and life.
When vastly wealthy non-living entities called corporations make PRIVATE LAWS that place them beyond our human laws, democracy is but a sick joke on us all. If our legislators and our courts are so easily bought, it’s long past time to get money and lobbying out of our electoral and legislative process.
— by Carol Van Strum
Tidewater, Oregon 97390
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