In Defense of Corporate Persons

Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 30, p. 309, 2015

Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 366

26 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2015

Date Written: August 4, 2015


This essay is a critique of this attack on corporate personhood. It explains that the corporate separateness - corporate “personhood” - is an important legal principle as a matter of corporate law. What’s more, as a matter of constitutional law, corporate “personhood” deserves a more nuanced analysis than has been typically offered in arguing in favor of an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Indeed, the concept of corporate “personhood” can in fact be marshaled in arguments against corporations being able to assert constitutional rights. In the nascent category of cases brought by corporations asserting rights of religious freedom, for example, corporations typically derivatively assert the religious claims of their shareholders. Attention to corporate “personhood” would lead courts to separate the claims of shareholders from those of the corporation itself, leading to a dismissal of corporate religious claims asserted on behalf of shareholders.

Finally, it proposes that the concerns motivating the movement against corporate personhood should be ameliorated with adjustments in corporate governance rather than constitutional law. In corporate law, what we need are changes in corporate governance to make corporations more like persons, not less. Unlike persons, corporations are expected to act if they have only one goal - the production of shareholder value. People must balance a range of obligations, both moral and legal. Requiring corporations to attend to a broader range of stakeholders would make corporations more like people, would make them better citizens, and would make their political participation less problematic.

Suggested Citation

Greenfield, Kent, In Defense of Corporate Persons (August 4, 2015). Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 30, p. 309, 2015, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 366, Available at SSRN:

Kent Greenfield (Contact Author)

Boston College Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States
617-552-3167 (Phone)
617-552-4098 (Fax)

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