Friday, September 21, 2012

Lamoreaux to Lecture on the Strange History of Corporations and the Fourteenth Amendment

Our friends at H-Law have spotted a lecture of considerable interest to legal historians, which is part of the 2012-2013 Business History Forum at Columbia University.  According to the Forum’s website:
The Business History Forum at Columbia University highlights the relationship between Columbia University and the city through the history of city, national, and global businesses. The Forum features speakers who address the past, present and future of industries that have been and, in many cases, continue to be important to the development of New York City, including accounting; communications, finance; law; media; real estate/development; theater; and trade. It brings together academic experts, industry practitioners, students, and the public. The Forum also provides examples of how the university acquires, preserves, and provides access to business collections through its Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The complete schedule is here, but note that on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 in 107 Warren Hall (115th Street & Amsterdam Avenue), Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Professor of Economics and History, Yale University, will speak on "'Corporations are People Too':  The Strange History of Corporations and the Fourteenth Amendment."  Here is the abstract:
Morrison R. Waite (Library of Congress)
In 1886 the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Morrison R. Waite, declared at the start of oral arguments in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.”  This simple statement has generally been taken to be the Court’s definitive position on the legal personhood of corporations, and many writers have cited it as the key precedent for later decisions extending constitutional rights to corporations, including the recent Citizens United case.

But other decisions handed down by the Supreme Court around the same time seemed to say just the opposite—that the Fourteenth Amendment did NOT apply to corporations.  The general thrust of these other decisions was to uphold the regulatory powers of the states over corporations by underscoring the states’ power to set conditions for, discriminate against, and even exclude completely foreign corporations (that is, corporations chartered by other states.) This strain of the case law largely eclipsed Waite’s Santa Clara declaration at least until the 1950s, when southern states sought to use their regulatory authority over corporations to keep out the NAACP.
The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at cul-events@columbia.edu.

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