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> 2. Sure, corporations are people too, but, nonetheless, only people engage in civil disobedience. Related, for courts, a company that profits from violating of local laws is not a protester or freedom fighter battling injustice, it is criminal enterprise.

This point seems out of place to me. To my understanding as a lay person, the law does not distinguish between a crime committed as civil disobedience and the same crime otherwise. Neither corporations nor private citizens can use a defense like, "it was civil disobedience," to avoid criminal liability. This has nothing to do with corporations being people or not. Could you please bring your lawyerly knowledge to bear and correct whatever deficiencies in understanding I have here?




I can understand the confusion/maybe I should have separated that into several points & or not sought to respond to the corporations are people comment I was certain I'd get before it was even said:) I'll try to unpack it but I may just make it worse..

1) People love to say corporations are people too (thanks SCOTUS), but the law doesn't actually always consider corporations as legal people. It depends on lots of things.

2) "The law" is also too vague. Sometimes intent is relevant, sometimes its not; it just depends on what the law itself says.

3) Civil disobedience is not (as far as I know-there's a lot of laws) a defense for law-breaking, but, it may mitigate punishment or liability for a human. This depends on many things, ranging from the law, to the jurisdiction, to the facts of the case.

4) The distinction I was trying to make was: unlike people, companies do not engage in civil disobedience and a court will not allow a company to claim otherwise, be it as defense or as liability mitigation.

Hope that answers your question?


I appreciate the point you're trying to make here but this isn't correct. Point 4 makes it sound as if courts do allow natural persons to claim civil disobedience as a defense. They don't. At the level of a general statement (i.e., subject to specific statutory context), natural persons and legal entities are in the same position. Either could argue that a given law is unconstitutional, and win or lose. Or, either could refuse to comply with a law on purely moral/ethical/whatever grounds. In the latter case, the legal consequence is the same regardless of natural person, partnership, nonprofit, forprofit, etc.: violation of law. Considerations of justice, motivations, etc. can impact sentencing for natural persons and legal entities alike. Legal entities may have their personhood revoked in some cases - that is one difference w/ natural persons.


No, civil disobedience is not permitted as a defense for humans in any jurisdiction that I am aware of. However, depending on the crime/charge, jurisdiction & relevant laws, it may be permitted to mitigate punishment for humans--but not for corporations. As far as I am aware, there is no court nor is there any case or any law passed, where a corporation is procedurally or statutorily permitted to introduce any claim that their liability or punishment ought to be mitigated by a claim of disobedience.

In other words, civil disobedience may be legally relevant (tho not as a defense) when a human is the defendant, but it is not relevant for a corporation.


I understand that's your view. I'm asking about its basis. Because what you're saying doesn't sound true, but the point matters (current context aside), so if you are right, I would like to know.

> it may be permitted to mitigate punishment for humans--but not for corporations

By whom or what, pursuant to what? Courts? Sentencing guidelines? Can you provide an example?


I understand what you are asking & why you think there is an easy answer that I'm not giving you, but unfortunately, there isn't one. There's no easy explanation that wouldn't require learning or understanding criminal & civil procedure first. I recognize that's not satisfying, but, well, law is overlapping, conflicting, and complicated.

But no, civil disobedience is not about sentencing guidelines, and its not statutory (legislatures don't create laws for breaking the law) nor is it a defense, but nonetheless, it may be relevant. Again, it depends on many things, like the case itself, the jurisdiction, local rules, applicable laws, the judge...and why any of this matters is hard to understand without a background in civil & criminal procedure.

Someone else asked similar here & I went into further detail about why. A short answer is that humans have have states of mind, intentions and motives, and corporations do not (maybe you think they do; the legal system does not--judges and juries determine them as elements of crimes for humans, but not for corporations.) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14278589

Hope this helps; I wish I had a better way of explaining, but, I'm no sure what else to say other than that our laws distinguish between humans and corporations and so do our courts, because our democracy has determined that its best for public policy not to, for example, allow companies, whose legal purpose is to produce monetary profits for shareholders, to instruct their employees to break laws.


It's hardly pro public policy for natural persons to violate the law, either. Again we come back to this point: What can you point to as any kind of evidence that courts make the distinction you claim. If your answer is that you would need to teach me civil and criminal procedure first, I would note that I am a lawyer and aced those courses, so feel free to assume an advanced understanding in your response. I don't practice actively in criminal matters, hence my seeking to learn the basis of your position. But I understand enough to know that your position is one that, if true, it would have a basis that one could point to somewhere in some jurisdiction without saying "it depends on many things" and "you need to understand civil/criminal procedure". In other words, I see no reason why your view is automatic given the nature of corporations. It seems to me if civil disobedience matters, it matters as the reason for which the party acted. The law views corporations are capable of acting for reasons; how else could you make sense of things like punitive damages awards against corporations? Again, maybe you're right. If you are, please take advantage of the teaching opportunit and share a link. ;)


Yes, that's what I'm saying?

Hmmm. I'll try but maybe we are misunderstanding each other, because this doesn't seem debatable?

There are rules that define what kind of defenses, mitigating circumstances, evidence can be presented etc, are permitted for civil & criminal cases & what common law & evidence can be shared with the jury etc.. I'm unaware of any jurisdiction where corporations are considered equal to people or have a mens rea etc or were permitted to describe their corporate law-breaking as "civil disobedience" to a jury.

That's not how I'd say the law viewed corporations or punitive damages; guessing we use words differently & aren't understanding each other.

I am not sure what else to say; that different rules & laws apply to corporations & people seems to be a standard thing in my world. In my head its a given, so maybe my explanations are not as clear as I think. If I come across a link I'll share.


Thanks for sticking with the exchange. If courts apply different rules for how natural persons and corporations could speak to juries about reasons for noncompliance, that would indeed be interesting. Wasn't aware of that being the case.


Let's say that there is no Uber, per se, just an open-source ride-sharing app, which coordinates drivers and riders. Then drivers (and riders, I suppose) could claim that they were engaging in civil disobedience, right?

And with Uber, the board and owners could similarly claim that they were personally engaging in civil disobedience, right? In the way that they managed Uber. However, I suspect that limited personal liability for corporate actions is a better deal.


I'm not a lawyer, but I believe the point isn't necessarily that you'd use civil disobedience as an affirmative defense (like a self-defense claim would be). Instead, you'd make that argument to a jury that may or may not factor that into their decision (i.e. jury nullification). You're right that it's not a claim you'd make to a court expecting leniency. But you might be able to gain sympathy from a jury of your peers if they thought you were morally right.

I don't think there is anything that would stop a defense from making that argument. If that's all you had to argue, then that's the proverbial "pound the table", if you will.


I agree. Just saying that's available to corporations as well. Reason I mention is this: "companies do not engage in civil disobedience" is not only not true; we need and should expect companies to engage in civil disobedience.

Edit: To be clear, I am not talking at all about Greyball. I mean cases where civil disobedience would actually be justified.


I am not sure why you think that companies do or should engage in civil disobedience.

When companies want to change laws, they lobby the government, in part because telling one's employees to break the law is criminal conspiracy and very expensive, given how much power companies have & employees don't.

Sure, corporations sometimes do act in the public interest and sometimes act in the interest of justice. However, legally, courts & judges do not consider mitigating liability or punishment for their behavior on this basis. There are many reasons for this, but mostly because its just better public policy to limit any civil disobedience mitigation to actual humans.

Otherwise, eg, wouldn't coal mining companies be all about "civil disobedience"?


Take PRISM for example, or imagine a Muslim registry - or any other scenario where government requires companies to comply with a scheme and the company's appropriate ethical response would be refusal.

(1) Why should we not welcome civil disobedience then or call it anything other than "civil disobedience"?

(2) In a judicial context, what specifically do you believe would stop the same sentencing considerations from applying to corporations? Sentencing guidelines? Judicial precedent?

Criminal procedure is not my field, so there's a possibility I am making some basic mistaken assumption - please correct me if so.


You seem to be kind of conflating ethics & civil disobedience? And expanding civil disobedience to include, for example, refusing to work assigned to you?

The government does not require companies to comply with a scheme. Companies are free to contract with the government, but certainly aren't forced. PRISM & Muslim registries are also edge cases. There are many companies who choose not to do any work with the military, defense industry, or even gun, drug, or tobacco companies for ethical reasons. Most companies will allow their employees to opt not to work on projects that violate their ethics or values. However, a company would certainly be within their rights to fire an employee for refusing to participate in a project. (its not a smart move, nor does it help with retention of other employees) None of this is, by any means, civil disobedience--nor are ethics and civil disobedience interchangeable. (& it doesn't have to be illegal to be unethical--but civil disobedience is about law-breaking.)

As you may remember, the courts would not permit the government to force Apple to build decryption software to crack that iphone.

And we should not welcome all or encourage civil disobedience. We should just create just laws. Also, we should not redefine or expand the definition of civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience is not a "sentencing consideration." All of this is so inside baseball that it'd take explaining all of civil & criminal procedure in order for you to understand. It would take me a long time to make it both clear and accurate and the payoff would not be worth it. Sorry, but yes, you are making many mistaken assumptions:)

There are many public policy reasons why corporations do not & are not considered to engage in civil disobedience. Here's a few quick ones: we don't want companies to direct their employees to break the law or ignore health safety or environmental regulations, or to encourage the formation of criminal enterprises, most (99%?) are defined by a profit-making purpose & this undermines that (& create shareholder lawsuits.) and, despite Citizens United, the overwhelming majority of our laws do not treat corporations as people. For instance, corporations, legally speaking, are not considered to have mens rea or intentions.

TLDR: Citizens United aside, it is actually just not useful or accurate to consider corporations as people, because they aren't. As far as our legal system goes, humans have intentions & a state of mind and corporations don't.

(Feel argue they do, but, as far as the US legal system goes, they don't. And shouldn't. Because they actually don't. So, please, don't. Or, just don't expect my response).


I won't expect a response but here are a few observations:

You seem to view civil disobedience as a concept inherent to legal procedure as opposed to being by definition outside of law. That seems to me a very unorthodox definition of civil disobedience.

What I mean by civil disobedience is any legal agent (natural person or otherwise) refusing to comply with valid law for reasons of conscience. If you are subject to a law, you can engage in civil disobedience. A company that refuses for reasons of company principles to comply with a legally valid order to comply with a Muslim registry is engaging in civil disobedience. The ethics of corporate civil disobedience is complicated given obligations to shareholders and need to respect autonomy/views of dissenting employees. But groups of people are indeed capable of having shared principles, and that has nothing to do with Citizen United. Fine if you disagree.

Of course those are edge cases. Instances where civil disobedience is relevant usually are. Those are precisely the cases worth talking about.

Creating just laws and violating unjust ones still in effect are not mutually exclusive.


I just meant I wouldn't respond to a comment about how actually corporations totally have state of minds and intentions. Sure, one could write laws where they did (just like you could write a law that says anything), but that is not presently the case in any jurisdiction I am aware of and there's not much of a reason to think it'll ever change. Because corporations are not people.

I am not sure what you mean. I do view civil disobedience through a legal lens, but its inherent in its definition-its action taken in opposition to law. Its not civil disobedience unless the law is being broken.

From Wikipedia: Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.

I am not sure I understand your definition, but it is broader than mine.

I do not understand what you mean here: "A company that refuses for reasons of company principles to comply with a legally valid order to comply with a Muslim registry is engaging in civil disobedience."

What is a “legally valid order”? The US government doesn't & can't order companies to work for it. (Again, consider Apple & San Bernardino--the Court refused the DoJs request) It cannot arbitrarily demand data. (Obviously court orders for discovery, subpoenas,etc are not the same thing) And our Constitution & many very settled SC precedents, along with many other laws, make it illegal for the government to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Similarly, the US Government cannot compel Palantir or Facebook to make a Muslim Registry, but, leaving the Registry aside, either could fire an employee for refusing to work on a project for the Trump administration, (though it'd be a dumb thing to do). Any public attempt the Trump administration makes to create a Muslim registry will be challenged & enjoined in federal court.

If the Trump signs an executive order creating a Muslim Registry, it will be immediately challenged in court, and, a TRO or an injunction, will be granted for the same reasons.

Groups of people are absolutely capable of having shared principles & working together (its even common), but that is not how corporations are defined by laws made by legislatures or how courts interpret & apply those laws. Law is all about definitions, overlapping jurisdictions, and knowing which rules apply. I

However, the government cannot compel or order a company to build a Muslim Registry let alone anything else. Google & Facebook aren't ordered around at their whim. Plus our Constitution also forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. There are many more layers to this than I can explain.

My point about PRISM & the Muslim Registry was that they are on the edge because they are easy….since both are widely viewed as illegal and/or unconstitutional. As have US courts. Laws don't have to be changed; PRISM already violates them. Same with the Muslim Registry; if Trump orders it, a court will enjoin it before it is made. Neither the government nor Trump can order a company to build anything, let alone something that is facially unconstitutional. Neither is as much about civil disobedience as they are are about challenging laws in courts.

I don't think creating just laws and violating unjust ones are mutually exclusive at all. However, the purpose of a company (leaving B corps aside-rooting for you Etsy) is to make profits, regardless of who works there.

A company's BoD may believe that environmental regulations are deeply unjust because climate change is myth, but that doesn't mean that the company can order their coal miners to violate laws.

Last try: companies have fiduciary duties to their shareholders. Not breaking laws is implicit. When a company wants to change a law, it is cheaper & less risky to lobby for change than liability for breaking them. And a broader definition of civil disobedience undermines it, eventually into meaninglessness. Which is great for folks who don’t think words should have meaning, I guess?

Final comment on this: Though civil disobedience is defined by relation to law, ethics are not dependent on or related to law. Seems like our definitions vary more than we disagree.


For examples of legally binding orders, see the transparency policies of major tech companies (disclosure: I worked for one). Government routinely submits binding information requests, together with gag orders. The pleadings in Microsoft's recent lawsuit challenging the orders gives a sense of the extent. The fact that actions can be challenged doesn't mean corporate civil disobedience is irrelevant. What if a challenge fails? Yes, corporations can lobby. So can humans. Yes, obligations towards stakeholders make the matter complicated. I don't think it's true that fiduciary obligation requires absolute compliance with laws (what about late filing penalties that it makes economic sense to incur?), so context matters. I disagree there's a slippery slope towards meaninglessness. But I appreciate your comments. I have a good sense of where you are coming from. Thanks.


Binding information requests are court orders, which can, as you note, be appealed in court. I am unaware of any instance where a company has lost an appeal in court & refused to turn over information to the court in an instance where civil disobedience would be relevant. And yes, fiduciary obligation does not require absolute compliance, but it certainly does demand that corporation do not direct employees to violate the law. Indeed, context does matter--that's also why agreed upon definitions of, eg, "civil disobedience" are so important. Otherwise, among other things, its very hard to understand each other. Glad that we found a way:)


Civil disobedience is rooted in ideas of justice. E.g. a corporation could engage in civil disobedience by refusing to have separate black and white seating areas. But our society does not generally recognize any "justice" angle to economic regulation. It's not "civil disobedience" for a company to skirt laws as part of a profit-making enterprise just because it wants to second-guess the government's idea of what those regulations should be. Nobody will write history books about how the noble unicorn startup evaded unjust regulations of its day to maximize its market capitalization.


No disagreement here on that. I'm not defending Greyball.


Just for the sake of discussion:

What about Silk Road? I would say that's a legitimate case of a company (of sorts) engaging in civil disobedience. Ross Ulbricht was ideologically motivated.

I've heard some rumors about Travis' ideology. Maybe he's similar. (He named his company Uber, maybe he's some sort of Nietzschean?)


You would be incorrect. Humans, not companies, engage in civil disobedience.

Regardless, whether its Ross, Travis or anyone else, why would or should ideological motivation be relevant to whether or not any given act is legal or how it should be punished?

When libertarians, for whatever reason, choose to start businesses in CA, they are explicitly consenting to our government & to obeying our democratically enacted laws. Ideology is not a shield for consequences--and, for both Travis & Ross, using Ayn Rand to justify their behavior only makes them less sympathetic to judges, prosecutors & juries.


I was under the impression that Silk Road wasn't a company but a private website run by Ross. Reading over the Wikipedia article and the indictment I can't find any mention of it being incorporated.

Although the indictment mentions at one point that he had an employee, but he may have been paying him privately and not as part of a corporate structure.

Does that change anything vis-a-vis the argument you're making with regards to civil disobedience?

My reading of your comments is that a corporation doesn't have certain rights private individuals have. That makes sense, but does your argument still hold if Silk Road is a purely private website without any corporate structure?

1. https://ia600406.us.archive.org/17/items/gov.uscourts.mdd.23...


Aka "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man."

No, it changes literally nothing. Criminal enterprises tend to be lean on corporate structure and paperwork for a variety of reasons.

There is also no such thing as a purely private website where everything is legal and there is no liability.


Right, but let's say for example that some guy X publishes embarrassing classified information on a protest sign that he's holding in front of the White House, this could be construed as civil disobedience, right?

But it couldn't if Google had the same information and published it on its front page, since it's a corporation.

1. But what if guy X publishes it on his personal blog?

2. What if he occasionally sells used goods via his blog?

3. What if the main point of the blog is to sell those used goods, with a small "notes from the author" section where the information is published?

4. What if it's purely a commercial enterprise & isn't incorporated?

5. And then if it's incorporated it should be clear-cut, since as you said "only people [and not corporations] engage in civil disobedience".

My question is when civil disobedience stops being a defense. Your original comment points out that Uber can't use that because it falls into #5, but then you're saying it wouldn't apply to Silk Road either which as far as I can tell falls into #4.

How about #1-3?


" this could be construed as civil disobedience, right?" "when civil disobedience stops being a defense."

This is the core of your misunderstanding - 'civil disobedience' is never a 'defense'. At best, a judge can take it into account come sentencing time. There is no such thing as a generic 'if you are ideologically motivated, you're off the hook' rule. Private or legal person, doesn't matter.


I misphrased that, I shouldn't have said defense but when a defendant could expect leniency on that basis.

With that caveat my question still stands, `gotothedoctor` is , if I understand him correctly, saying that corporations like Uber can't expect that sort of leniency, but what about other not-quite-just-a-person entities?


a business is a business and a person is a person. there are no "not quite a person entities" (those are businesses) and there are no technicalities here that transform an economic exchange into a personal one.

AKA: no, Ross is not Silk Road. And, yes, the Silk Road is a business that took in millions if not billions.

Simply put: when there is material benefit or an economic exchange, it is a business, whether you are selling lemonade, drugs, guns or even personal services. There is no loophole.


Thanks for that clarification. When you said "companies" I thought you meant that in the sense of incorporated entities. But if it's just whether you're engaging in business or not that's pretty clear-cut.


Again, just for the sake of fun/discussion. Not trying to make any significant point here.

> You would be incorrect. Humans, not companies, engage in civil disobedience.

Is this a point of observation ("I've never heard of a company doing this"), law ("Companies have no legal grounds to claim civil disobedience"), or logic ("companies cannot act, only its constituent humans act")?

If it's the first, I'm claiming to give you a contradictory observation. If it's the second, you yourself said that civil disobedience has no legal significance anyway (just a possible source of sympathy when it comes time for the judge's discretion) so in this sense I don't see why a human's civil disobedience is any more real than a company's. If it's the third, fair enough, but it wasn't clear to me that this was your point.


It is relevant for humans in a legal setting; it is not relevant for corporations.

I did not say that civil disobedience has no legal significance for humans--I said it has no legal significance for corporations. Nor did I say it was a source of sympathy--I said it could mitigate liability or punishment.

While it is not a defense for law-breaking by humans, asserting civil disobedience can mitigate punishment or liability for humans; it cannot be used to do the same for corporations.

Jurisdictions, laws and rules make it difficult to generalize (eg some courts accept some mitigating factors but not others), but I've never come across or heard of any case where a corporation could or did claim "civil disobedience" as a mitigating factor for liability or punishment.


> "cannot be used to do the same for corporations"

What is the basis of that "cannot"? Sentencing guidelines? Inference from cases where it was asserted but rejected because it came from a corporation?

Edit: Not asking for a citation. Just want to understand the basis for your view, because the point is an important one (current context aside) and your responses thus far about it feel circular (e.g., doesn't apply because it's irrelevant).


Got it. When you had said that it would mitigate punishment, I assumed you meant in a purely unofficial subjective way. Thanks.


could, not would. There are many variables. My comments are not intended as official or objective:)


>why would or should ideological motivation be relevant to whether or not any given act is legal or how it should be punished? When libertarians, for whatever reason, choose to start businesses in CA, they are explicitly consenting to our government & to obeying our democratically enacted laws. Ideology is not a shield for consequences--and, for both Travis & Ross, using Ayn Rand to justify their behavior only makes them less sympathetic to judges, prosecutors & juries.

I didnt work for the Justice Department, but this appears to not be consistently logical. If ideology doesnt matter, why does valuing liberty negatively influence a judge's or prosecuter's actions towards you? That doesn't seem right.

Also, if ideological motivation should not play a role in prosecuting crimes, then why does our justice system sometimes do the opposite (consider hate crimes, or other cases where motivation is considered when prosecuting crimes, i.e. different versions of murder charges.)


I did not say that ideology does not matter. I asked why it should be relevant to the definition of a crime or whether or not it ought to be punished. (my words could've been tighter here: ideology, like civil disobedience, may be relevant to mitigation--or it may increase liability & punishment.)

I also did not say that "valuing liberty" has a negative influence. That is not how I was using the word "libertarian"

Nor did I say ideological motivation should not or does not play a role in prosecuting crimes. Whether it should or not is probably not important--because ideology does play a role prosecution, particularly in jurisdictions where they're elected.

As you know, motive (mens rea) is an element of some criminal charges, including murder. Motivation matters basically for public policy reasons--for example, we punish hate crimes more harshly because we, as a society, decided crimes motivated by hate are more damaging to society & harsher punishment is a deterant. Similarly, sometimes "crimes of passion" are punished less harshly, because society has decided that harsher punishment would not be a deterrant or effective.

What I said was: ideology is not a defense. And, in Travis's & Ross's cases, such ideology is more likely to increase, rather than mitigate, liability.

And, what I meant was: neither Uber nor the Silk Road would, could or should attempt to assert a defense based on not consenting to CA law, democracy, and/or denying the legitimacy of federal courts. Not only will it irritate the humans whose legitimacy is being questioned, but such a defense is not procedurally permissible in any court that I am aware of. Basically, it won't help either of them--its more likely to increase liability than anything else.

My sense is that we define words like libertarian quite differently, so I'm going to leave it here.


I understand you. We do disagree on some matters--Libertarianism really is just about liberty. Though much public misunderstanding exists regarding it.


I see as much connection there as I see between Scooters' "Hyper Hyper" and, say, "some sort of" ancient greek philosophy.

Just look at these superfluous! They acquire riches and yet they become poorer. They want power and first of all the crowbar of power, much money – these impotent, impoverished ones!

I can't tell you what exactly "Nietzschean" would be, but I think that in this and any neighboring contexts it's like talking about having lit fire underwater; some may have confused some sort of reflection with actual fire, but Nietzsche never set and never will set foot in any of these parts. Having been discerned and discarded by him is the only sort of business Nietzsche and any random shareholder value maximizing CEO will ever have. I don't pretend to know or understand Nietzsche at all, but the "worst" that could happen is that someone proves me wrong with Nietzsche quotes, so I'll just claim it and see what happens.


I would completely disagree. The silk road was motivated by money. That's it. Hence why Ulbricht tried to hire a hit man to kill people when his criminal empire was threatened.


For what it's worth, Ross Ulbricht also paid to have 5 people killed. (They of course were not killed, because it was part of the larger sting, but that's irrelevant to his repugnant behavior)


From the story I've vaguely heard, he considered them ideologically defensible. But, at that point I guess it's not particularly civil. (or maybe I missed the meaning of the word "civil" here)


No, he didn't pay. It was a fake chatlog created by the investigators to make him look worse than what he did.


Do you have any actual proof that it was fake? I wasn't aware of any, and I can't find any, so this just looks like wishful thinking on your part.


The investigators scamming him doesn't change the fact that he did it. Additionally, there were two instances where he paid to have someone "killed". While the second case is rather sketchy, the first case is much clearer. They even staged the murder for him.


It didn't work out well for Ross but then drug trafficking is a whole different thing from providing a taxi service.


The key is not that your motivation is simply ideological but that it's rooted in widely-acknowledged concepts of social justice. And it's not even "are you a corporation or are you human?" but "are you fighting for social justice or to line your pockets with cash?". We can distill that down further to "who benefits more: society or your wallet?".

To steal an example from rayiner elsewhere in this thread, let's say you're a restaurant in the segregation-era south in a jurisdiction that requires restaurants to have separate seating areas for white and black people. Let's say you decide to break the law by having a single seating area for everyone. That would be civil disobedience because you're going out of your way to improve conditions for marginalized people at considerable risk, not just of prosecution but of being boycotted by racists. In other words, you breaking the law benefits society more than it benefits you.

This isn't what Uber is doing. Sure, let's say that Travis is ideologically motivated because he feels he has a fundamental natural right to make money using any and every means he sees fit. So that means Uber is breaking the law because they feel the law gets in the way of their natural right to line their pockets with as much cash as they can however they can. It's a purely selfish motivation.

And moving on to Ross, it's the same thing. He was raking in bitcoins hand over fist from what he was doing. He can say "selling anything should be legal" all he wants, but if the end result of him breaking the law is that he gets rich, then he's ultimately doing himself a favor more than he's doing society a favor. And he really shot himself in the foot with those attempted hits. That took all the wind out of the sails of his "I'm not hurting anyone; I'm just helping connect people to each other". He tried to kill people. Worse, he tried to kill people because they stole money from him. There was no ideological motivation for the attempted hits. It was just "this guy stole from me, he has to pay". There goes his entire defense.

And ultimately, "civil disobedience" isn't a defense against conviction. It's an argument for leniency in the sentencing phase. It doesn't exist on paper, either: the only reason the concept exists at all is because judges and juries have broad discretion in sentencing. It's just like how first-time offenders tend to get off easy: there's no law saying "if the convicted has no priors, you have to give them a lesser sentence", it's just based on the logic that someone with no priors is probably someone who made a stupid mistake and not a career criminal. Going back to civil disobedience, the upshot is that if you can convince the judge and/or jury that you breaking the law had a net benefit to society, you might get away with the minimum punishment mandated by law. But if the main consequence of you breaking the law is that you got rich, why would any judge or jury care enough to let you off easily?

Edit: Just to make this clear, IANAL & TINLA.


Way more clear now. Thanks for taking the time.


Note the Supreme Court has explicitly expressed reluctance to apply RICO if it could be interpreted as a weapon against civil disobedience: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/us/supreme-court-voids...


That's not my read of that case & I don't think it applies here regardless. as per above, Uber is a company, so it can't engage in civil disobedience--thus there need be no concern that RICO "could be interpreted as a weapon against civil disobedience."

Basically, in 2003, a very different SCOTUS said sorry Planned Parenthood, but, actually Operation Rescue, as awful & harassing as they are, are not committing EXTORTION, so no RICO for you & overturned their damages award.

Here's the part of the article I'd guess you are referring to:

"The decision, Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, No. 01-1118, did not appear to reflect any particular attitude on the court toward abortion, but rather a concern over the implications of invoking the federal racketeering law as a weapon against political protests. In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court was ''rightly reluctant, as I see it, to extend RICO's domain further.'' She noted that in the argument in the case, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, who supported the clinics in their interpretation of extortion, acknowledged that the definition might have applied to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement."

Ginsburg's concern was, if SCOTUS accepted that definition of extortion, others could use RICO to prosecute citizens for civil disobedience. Conseqently, she ruled against Planned Parenthood.


I'm not arguing that it applies in this case, I'm just responding to parent's statement that "To my understanding as a lay person, the law does not distinguish between a crime committed as civil disobedience and the same crime otherwise." I'm saying that many penalties take motive into consideration, and SC expressed concern about expanding motive in RICO cases in a way that could be applied to civil disobedience.


OK. I replied the parent comment to explain that issue above.

Regardless, SCOTUS did not, as you claim, "express concern about expanding motive in RICO cases".

On a very different court, RBG wrote a concurrence, explaining that she voted against Planned Parenthood because she was concerned with the precedent of charging Operation Rescue with extortion, under RICO. Motive is not the issue (nor was it relevant in that case)--RICO...& charging the defendants with extortion, as a basis for RICO prosecution is.


If a law is "bad" there are essentially two ways to overturn it. One is to go through the legislative body and have it amended. This is difficult and time consuming, and hard for one person to do. The other way is to go to court, and argue that the law is bad. But about the only way to do that is to break the law. This is where civil disobedience comes in. It isn't a get out of jail free card, it is an opportunity to overthrow the law. If course, if you lose, you can go to jail.


Courts can't overthrow bad laws, they can only overthrow unconstitutional laws (or state laws that violate federal laws).


There is room. No law can usurp things like freedom of speech. All sorts of apparently illegal acts find safe harbour if tied to free speach. A protest rally cannot be stopped simply be because the protestors are jaywalking or loitering on the sidewalk. Companies do have speech rights but they are very different. I can join a protest rally marching down mainstreet, but uber cannot hire people to do the same because the people violating the law are not enguaged in speech but in employment. So flesh persons can get away with acts that corporate "persons" cannot.


Wikipedia can help maybe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_disobedience#Legal_impli...

> Governments have generally not recognized the legitimacy of civil disobedience or viewed political objectives as an excuse for breaking the law. Specifically, the law usually distinguishes between criminal motive and criminal intent; the offender's motives or purposes may be admirable and praiseworthy, but his intent may still be criminal. Hence the saying that "if there is any possible justification of civil disobedience it must come from outside the legal system."

See also the Necessity Defense (the above mentioned "political necessity") [0] and Jury Nullification [1].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necessity_(criminal_law)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification_in_the_Unit...


(IANAL) The law doesn't, but juries do.

See, the whole point of civil disobedience is this: under the Constitution and the precepts of common law, bad laws don't have to be followed. So civil disobedience is making a show of deliberately breaking a bad law in order to call attention to the fact that the law is bad, risking your own liberty in the process. Then when it goes to trial, a jury may decide that though you broke the law, you are in the right and acquit you. This power of "jury nullification" is also recognized in common law and while it may not actually nullify laws, it makes them more difficult to enforce and when they're not enforced they are effectively void. A lot of the fun-fact ridiculous laws like "it is illegal to kiss in public on Sundays" are old laws which the local authorities can't be bothered to enforce and so are not really in force.

But back to civil disobedience: it is an assertion through deed of human rights. Corporations lack human rights, and furthermore if you are making money off your violation of the law you are less likely to be smiled upon by a jury.




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