Winkler's chief contribution is to show how corporations have been some of the most important innovators in American law, shaping it for good and often ill…Winkler frames this history provocatively, as an ongoing "civil rights" movement for corporations, which "have pursued a longstanding, strategic effort to establish and expand" their rights in American constitutional law. He proves his thesis by recounting two dozen critical moments when corporations pushed the limits of existing law and mostly won new rights…Much of the value of Winkler's book lies in his elegant stitching together of 400 years of diverse cases, allowing us to feel the sweep and flow of history and the constantly shifting legal approaches to understanding this unusual entity…Four hundred years is a lot of time, and Winkler does a wonderful job of finding illustrative details without drowning in them, and of giving each case enough attention to make it come alive.
The New York Times Book Review - Zephyr Teachout
Journalist and law professor Winkler (Gunfight) evenhandedly traces key interactions between the Supreme Court and U.S. corporations to demonstrate how the controversial Citizens United decision was merely “the most recent manifestation of a long, and long overlooked, corporate rights movement.” Winkler starts his history in colonial America, showing how corporations such as the Virginia Company and Massachusetts Bay Company shaped American life from the very start. The rest of the book focuses on pivotal Supreme Court decisions, from 1809’s Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, over the corporate right to sue, through 2014’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., over religious rights. Winkler’s research is impressively thorough and wide-ranging, including original court records and news coverage as well as other historians’ analyses and interpretations. His argument is well supported throughout. Historical personages, from the well-known (Andrew Jackson, Henry Ford) to the more obscure (Roscoe Conkling, Charles Evan Hughes) to the downright surprising (Cecil B. DeMille), make appearances. He somewhat overstuffs the book with facts and backstory, some of which are only tangential to his project, but all are worthy of attention. Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue. (Feb.)
An eye-opening account of how corporations became ‘persons’ entitled to constitutional rights and used those rights to impede efforts to regulate them in the interests of real people.
An incisive account of the unlikely rise of an idea that has nearly turned American politics upside down.
This is a brilliant, beautifully written book on a topic affecting almost every area of law: how did corporations come to have rights under the Constitution? Professor Winkler carefully details this history from English law to the present, and the book is filled with new insights and information. Any future discussion of rights for corporations will be shaped by this wonderful book.
[A] timely, exciting book . . . . Constitutional law professor and legal commentator Winkler examines the history of the relationship between corporations and the Constitution, providing a field guide to the legal issues and an overview of a long-term corporate civil rights movement that employs techniques familiar from social justice movements. . . . Along the way, he presents a wide range of vividly drawn historical figures, bringing their philosophies, tactics, debates, and shenanigans to life while allowing readers to assess the ethics and implications of their work.
Sara Jorgensen - Booklist
A work that is both engrossing and surprising….As we await the Supreme Court’s decision in the critical case of whether a business can decline to serve a customer based on its distaste for same-sex marriages, all citizens would do well to pick up a copy of
We the Corporations to understand the full implications of what it decides.”
Jonathan A. Knee - New York Times
Winkler’s deeply engaging legal history, authoritative but accessible to non-lawyers, takes readers inside courtrooms, judges’ chambers and corporate offices… The book offers new takes on familiar stories…as well as fascinating insights from largely forgotten moments… [A] meticulous, educational and thoroughly enjoyable retelling of our nation’s past.
Benjamin C. Waterhouse - Washington Post
'Are corporations people?' That’s the provocative question Winkler poses at the outset of his impressive, engaging new book. . . . [Winkler] begins in Colonial America and provides a forceful and highly readable account of what he convincingly describes as a 'long, and long overlooked, corporate rights movement.'
Much of the value of Winkler’s book lies in his elegant stitching together of 400 years of diverse cases, allowing us to feel the sweep and flow of history and the constantly shifting legal approaches to understanding this unusual entity Blackstone’s ‘artificial person.’ Four hundred years is a lot of time, and Winkler does a wonderful job of finding illustrative details without drowning in them, and of giving each case enough attention to make it come alive…By nailing down the absurdities of the past, Winkler allows us to see how the future becomes more open.
Zephyr Teachout - New York Times Book Review
A chronicle of the steady, willful process by which corporations became people—until, that is, you try to sue them.As Winkler (Law/UCLA; Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, 2011) notes, "there was nearly $1 billion in new political spending" in the first campaign cycle after the Citizens United v. FEC decision of 2010, almost all from corporations or wealthy individuals—and that was just at the federal level. It's worth remembering that Citizens United began as an attack on Hillary Clinton, every conservative's favorite bête noire; but, as Winkler notes, it had long antecedents. His account begins nearly 120 years before, in fact, with an argument by Roscoe Conkling, a former senator and friend of President Chester Arthur, before the Supreme Court positing that the authors of the 14th Amendment meant to include corporations when they wrote that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." As Winkler wryly observes, the amendment was meant to protect the rights of newly emancipated enslaved people, not Southern Pacific, and, as he writes, "there was just one small problem with Conkling's account of the drafting of the Fourteenth Amendment: it was not true." Untruths and half-truths abound in the author's subsequent discussion of arguments advanced before—and increasingly accepted by—American courts, including the premise with the recent Hobby Lobby decision that corporations, as voluntary associations of people, can hold religious views. It's small consolation that corporations themselves have not succeeded in gaining the right to vote, but they hold other powers, including, after Citizens United, "the right to use their amassed resources to influence candidate elections." At the same time, thanks to what can only be perceived as a perversion of justice and judicial intent, corporations have none of the responsibilities of people, a textbook example of having your cake and eating it too.Maddening for those who care about matters constitutional and an important document in the ongoing struggle to undo Citizens United.
Are corporations "persons?" Do they have rights akin to humans? Is this question absurd? If you answered the first two questions in the affirmative, you are correct, at least according to U.S. Supreme Court rulings culminating in the relatively recent (2010)—and highly controversial—Citizens United case. And if you answered yes to the third question, you would not be alone. Prominent legal scholars and jurists, most notably Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her vehement dissent, take issue with the notion that corporations should be on equal footing with actual people when it comes to the extension of rights. In this fascinating study, UCLA law professor Winkler (Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right To Bear Arms in America) illuminates the evolution of this peculiar idea. Accordingly, he explicates the history of corporations and jurisprudence and explores how capitalism and civil rights have shaped judicial thinking. Moreover, he identifies prominent players, such as Daniel Webster, Roger Taney, Lewis Powell, and Thurgood Marshall. VERDICT Eminently readable and entertaining, this work is highly recommended for fans of Corporations and American Democracy, edited by Naomi R. Lamoreaux and William J. Novak. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/17.]—Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown