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Corporations and the Constitution

Our Constitution never uses the term “corporations,” referring instead to protections for “persons,” “the people,” and “citizens.” Yet in recent years, the Supreme Court has in several areas given corporations more protection than individuals, a trend CAC has tracked through its reports on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Roberts Court. If anything, it should be the opposite, and CAC shows through text and history how the Constitution demands more protection for people than corporations.

Think Tank

Conservatives have been engaged in a long-term campaign to promote the agenda of business advocates to restrict individuals’ access to the courts. In Congress, conservatives have repeatedly introduced legislation designed to substantially obstruct individuals’ access to the courts when corporations and other powerful organizations violate their rights. In addition, conservatives have pursued this courthouse door-closing agenda in the federal courts, and, more obscurely but not insignificantly, before committees of the Federal Judicial Conference, which are appointed by the Chief Justice to develop amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. At this juncture, business interests have already moved far along in achieving significant components of their agenda, both through legislation and Congressional lobbying as well as through strategic federal court litigation during the tenure of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and current Chief Justice John Roberts.
 
Even when Congress tends strongly towards conservative interests guided by business advocates, as it does now in both chambers, progressives can successfully beat back anti-civil justice legislation. They did exactly that during the last budget battle by forcing the exclusion of Chamber-backed language aimed at blocking a pending Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule barring the use of class action bans in arbitration clauses in consumer financial agreements. This issue is even more crucial than ever as we contemplate the future and importance of the U.S. Supreme Court. The purpose of this Special Report is to provide analysis and background that will enable broader understanding of these multi-front court access narrowing efforts, their origins, purposes, provisions, and effects, so as to inform and strengthen advocacy across all these arenas.

In 2008, the nation was plunged into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and in response, lawmakers established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since the CFPB's creation, opponents of financial regulation have sought to weaken its ability to protect the interests of consumers through both legislation and litigation. This White Paper provides background on the CFPB and then explains why the legal arguments against its constitutionality are all without merit.

In the 225 years since the ratification of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has never held that secular, for-profit corporations are entitled to the Constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion. As we explain more fully in this issue brief, it should not do so now.

On January 20, 2012, CAC published Reversing Citizens United: Lessons from the Sixteenth Amendment. Released to coincide with the two-year anniversary of Citizens United, this Issue Brief tells the story of the how progressives in the early 20th Century amended the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1895 decision in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust, a 5-4 ruling that struck down a federal income tax law and, much like Citizens United, departed from first constitutional principles and a long line of precedents. In telling the story of how the people took the Constitution back from the Lochner-era Supreme Court, the Issue Brief offers critical lessons for modern progressives fighting to reverse Citizens United.

On June 28, 2011, CAC released an issue brief highlighting two themes that join together some of the Court’s most important and most sharply divided business cases of the October 2010 Term. The first theme concerns corporate accountability. The second theme involves corporate speech. The final section of this Issue Brief updates Constitutional Accountability Center’s empirical analysis of the trends in the success rate of the Chamber of Commerce before the Court over the past 30 years to include this Term’s decisions.

In December 2010, CAC released an empirical study examining the success of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before the Supreme Court during the last 11 years of the tenure of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.