How Del. Marshall’s “personhood” bill would render the Code of Virginia absurd.
I’ve spent a great deal of time, in the past year and a half, studying the state code. (As of next week, it’s my full-time job.) My self-assigned task has been to slice and dice the Code of Virginia into discrete units, in as many directions as possible, and fold it back on itself in as many configurations as possible. It’s basically confetti origami. What I’m saying is that I know it the Code of Virginia really, really well right now. Because of the nature of how I’m slicing up the code, and the glossary feature that is part of The State Decoded, what I know better than anything else is the definition of the word “person.”
The Code of Virginia has 118 separate definitions of the word “person.” Here are a few of them:
“Person” includes any individual, corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, limited liability company, trust, joint venture, government, political subdivision, or any other legal or commercial entity and any successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality thereof.
“Person” means any natural person, corporation, association, firm, receiver, guardian, trustee, executor, administrator, fiduciary, representative or group of individuals or entities of any kind;
“Person” means any natural person, partnership, association, corporation or trust.
“Person” includes an associate of any person. For this purpose, “associate” shall mean (i) any other person who directly or indirectly controls, or is controlled by or under common control with, any such person or who is acting or intends to act jointly or in concert with any such person in connection with the acquisition of or exercise of beneficial ownership over shares; (ii) any corporation or organization of which any such person is an officer, director, manager or partner or as to which any such person performs a similar function; (iii) any other person having direct or indirect beneficial ownership of 10 percent or more of any class of equity securities of any such person; (iv) any trust or estate in which any such person has a beneficial interest or as to which any such person serves as trustee or in a similar fiduciary capacity; and (v) any relative or spouse of any such person, or any relative of such spouse, any one of whom has the same residence as any such person. For this purpose, “control” shall mean the possession, direct or indirect, of the power to direct or to cause the direction of the management or policies of a person, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract, arrangement or understanding, or otherwise.
“Person” means individual and entity.
“Person” means any association, aggregate of individuals, business, company, corporation, individual, joint-stock company, Lloyds type of organization, other organization, partnership, receiver, reciprocal or inter-insurance exchange, trustee or society.
As you can see, the variety is impressive. That’s for awfully good cause. Of the 30,826 laws in the Code of Virginia, 11,482 of them—37%—contain the word “person.” And there are 118 different things that “person” means in those 11,482 laws, because there are very specific things that they need to mean. Under Virginia law, a business cannot be guilty of murder, so under title 18.2 (Crimes and Offenses Generally), “person” does not apply to businesses, companies, corporations, joint-stock companies, etc. But under title 38.2 (Insurance), the word “person” doesn’t include people as you and I think of them, but applies only to associations, businesses, etc. (It’s the final definition in the list above.)
It is through this lens that I was alarmed to read Del. Bob Marshall’s HB 1: “Unborn children; construing the word ‘person’ under Virginia law to include.” The full text of the bill is described its in preamble as:
A bill to construe the word “person” under Virginia law, including but not limited to § 8.01-50 of the Code of Virginia, to include unborn children.
Wow. All 118 definitions of the word “person” would suddenly be amended to include “fetus.” This bill would serve as a wrecking ball against the Code of Virginia. Dozens and dozens of carefully constructed definitions would suddenly be rendered syntactically and legally ridiculous.
Section 38.2 would regulate associations, aggregates of individuals, businesses, companies, corporations and…er…fetuses. Fetuses would be able to employ people to bind insurance policies on their behalf. Fetuses would be regulated by the state corporation commission. A fetus could be appointed as a conservation police officer. It could sell real estate. It could be a mechanics lien agent. I could go on for a long, long time.
If Del. Marshall wants to redefine the word “person” within the state code, he’ll need to actually take the time to determine where, within the code, the word should be redefined, rather than lazily declaring that “person” always means “fetus.” HB1 would render absurd vast swaths of the Virginia code.