Why Delaware Must Retain its Corporate Dominance and Why it May Not

20 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017

See all articles by Charles M. Elson

Charles M. Elson

University of Delaware - John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance

Date Written: March 15, 2017


Delaware’s preeminent role in corporate regulation has endured for several important reasons. Most importantly, the state’s entire approach to the corporate law has been centered on investor protection. Although, through the years the ways by which it has tried to achieve this protection have changed, it is this animating principle that defines its laws. Investors are keenly aware of this fact and seek and respect the approach. Delaware’s primary industry is corporate regulation and to maintain its franchise, it must carry out its responsibilities fairly, intelligently and responsibly. Its corporate code is the most advanced in the country. Its judiciary has unusual expertise in the field and is highly respected in the resolution of corporate disputes. In recent years, it has maintained a delicate balance between upholding shareholder power and board prerogative. It is favored as the nation’s best forum for corporate dispute resolution by both investors and managers. It possesses a powerful franchise that would be difficult for other states to reproduce both judicially and, because of the influence in other jurisdictions of local corporate interests, practically. However, Delaware’s dominance is not assured and several recent developments may ultimately reduce its power and influence. First, while the chances of enactment of a federal corporate code are slim, federal intrusion into corporate governance regulation through the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts has been harmful to the state. A significant portion of Delaware’s influence in areas such as audit oversight and executive compensation has been superseded by federal regulation. The benefit of a Delaware court’s resolution of these types of issues is therefore diminished and the attractiveness of simply incorporating in a company’s home state at lesser cost is increased significantly. If one incorporates in Delaware for a sensible regulation of corporate issues and that regulation has shifted to the federal regime, there is little point in incorporating in Delaware. Any increased federal intervention in this area only heightens the potential for this shift. The argument for federal regulation has revolved around creating a progressive national regulatory standard. But because local federal district courts, with little corporate expertise and local corporate political pressures, will ultimately decide regulatory disputes, this may lead to the balkanization of corporate law. Delaware, oddly enough, offers a coherent national approach. Still today, Delaware regulates much corporate conduct and a shift to other states is far off, but not inconceivable.

The second major threat to Delaware’s dominance may be self-inflicted. For years the process by which Delaware courts are constituted and corporate law made has been considered above partisan politics and local interests. Any action that compromises its courts or the corporate law process due to local political considerations may diminish the state’s reputation for neutrality and credibility and lead to incorporation elsewhere. This is something that the state’s leaders must be highly cognizant of and sensitive to. Delaware’s potential downfall may not come from outside the state, but from within.

Keywords: Delaware, governance, corporate

Suggested Citation

Elson, Charles M., Why Delaware Must Retain its Corporate Dominance and Why it May Not (March 15, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2938704 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2938704

Charles M. Elson (Contact Author)

University of Delaware - John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance ( email )

Alfred Lerner Hall, Room 104
Newark, DE 19716
United States
302-831-6157 (Phone)

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