The Irrelevance of State Corporate Law in the Governance of Public Companies

64 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2007

See all articles by J. Robert Brown

J. Robert Brown

University of Denver Sturm College of Law


Weak state regulation of corporate governance process and the race to the bottom resulted in federal intervention in the 1930s and the adoption of the securities laws. The laws largely ousted the states from the corporate disclosure and proxy process. The duties of directors, however, remained subject to state regulation.

The race to the bottom, therefore, continued. One example was the adoption of waiver of liability provisions. It took less than two decades after Delaware adopted the first such provision in the aftermath of Van Gorkom for all 50 states to have something similar in place. Likewise, fiduciary obligations gradually weakened, with Delaware all but eliminating the duty of loyalty, replacing substantive fairness with ineffective procedural requirements. The predicable scandals and excesses followed.

Congress responded with the adoption of Sarbanes-Oxley and federalizing some portions of the duties of officers and directors. SOX, however, did not do so in a systematic way. As a result, neither the states nor the federal government adequately regulate the behavior of corporate managers. Said another way, the dynamics that resulted in the scandals of the millennium largely remain in place.

Suggested Citation

Brown, J. Robert, The Irrelevance of State Corporate Law in the Governance of Public Companies. University of Richmond Law Review, Vol. 38, p. 317, 2003-2004. Available at SSRN:

J. Robert Brown (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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