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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 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 March 10, 2010, CAC released the third narrative in its Text and History Narrative Series. Entitled A Capitalist Joker: The Strange Origins, Disturbing Past and Uncertain Future of Corporate Personhood in American Law, the narrative builds on the scholarly research discussed in CAC’s amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. The narrative examines a key issue that the Court addressed in the case: whether corporations have the same rights as individuals, particularly when it comes to influencing electoral politics.

On May 1, 2013, CAC published "Not So Risky Business: The Chamber of Commerce's Quiet Success Before the Roberts Court - An Early Report for 2012-2013." Since 2010, we have  been tracking the Chamber’s Supreme Court activities and releasing related reports each Term. This report is the latest in that series, chronicling the Chamber’s growing impact on the Court’s docket and its overall success before the Roberts Court, particularly in closely decided cases.