Constitutionalizing Corporate Law
55 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2015 Last revised: 24 Apr 2016
Date Written: September 15, 2015
The Supreme Court has recently decided some of the most important and controversial cases involving the federal rights of corporations in over two hundred years of jurisprudence. In rulings ranging from corporate political spending to religious liberty rights, the Court has dramatically expanded the zone in which corporations can act free from regulation. This Article argues these decisions represent a doctrinal shift, even from previous cases granting rights to corporations. The modern corporate rights doctrine has put unprecedented weight on state corporate law to act as a mechanism for resolving disputes among corporate participants regarding the expressive and religious activity of business corporations. The result is a new reliance on state corporate law that gives a quasi-constitutional dimension to governance rules that were developed in a different era and with a different focus.
The Article further illuminates the specific areas of mismatch between modern corporate rights doctrine and state corporate law. This examination offers two insights often overlooked in contemporary debate. First, it provides a deeper grounding for understanding where the Court has gone wrong and the importance of corporate governance proposals raised in the aftermath of its recent decisions. Second, the Article shows that the significance of the Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. extends beyond issues of women’s rights and sexual orientation, as is often emphasized. The decision undermines the very assumptions on which corporate law has been built: that private ordering and external regulations can be relied upon to address concerns that corporate law has been given a pass to ignore.
Keywords: Corporations, corporate law, corporate rights, corporate personhood, associations, Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, fiduciary duties
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