Friday, May 8, 2015
Thanks to faithful BLPB reader Scott Killingsworth for the tip about this new article appearing in the New Yorker detailing the scholarship and advocacy of renowned Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. The article raises questions about conflicts of interest between scholarship and advocacy.
[I]t would also be foolish to ignore the inherent tension in searching for truth while also working for paying clients. The scholar-warrior may lapse into a far more contemptible figure: the scholar for hire, who sells his name and his title for cash. A subtler danger comes from the well-known and nearly unavoidable tendency lawyers have of identifying with their clients.
The article also highlights his role in the current debate on corporate constitutional rights.
Tribe has taken a strong view of individual rights; his view of corporate rights is similar, and in this capacity he has at times advanced constitutional arguments that might invalidate great parts of the administrative state, in a manner recalling the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence of the nineteen-twenties and thirties. In that sense, the current condemnation of Tribe can be seen as part of a larger progressive backlash against the use of the Bill of Rights to serve corporate interests.
This short article is absolutely worth making your Friday procrastination list or your weekend "catch-up" reading list.
Monday, October 27, 2014
A few weeks ago, I suggested the book Is Administrative Law Unlawful, by Philip Hamburger. I have now finished reading the book. It’s a tough read but, if you’re interested in constitutional history as it relates to administrative law, I strongly recommend it.
I was especially struck by the following argument about the connection between popular sovereignty and the growth of administrative rule:
The growth of administrative power in America has followed the expansion of suffrage—an expansion that increasingly has opened up voting to all the people. It therefore is necessary to consider whether there is a connection.
It would appear that the new, cosmopolitan, or knowledge class embraced popular suffrage with a profound caveat. They tended to favor popular participation in voting, but they also tended to support the removal of much legislative power from legislatures. The almost paradoxical result has been to agonize over voting rights while blithely shifting legislative power to unelected administrators.
. . . Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, reformers struggled for the people to have equal representation and thus to enjoy the power to govern themselves. The reformers told themselves that, if only the people had power, reasonable and righteous government would prevail. When the people gradually acquired this power, however, the results were disappointing for the knowledge class. The members of this class had established their status, influence, and sense of self-worth through their assiduous pursuit of rationality and specialized knowledge, and they were troubled that popularly elected legislatures did not operate in line with the qualities they so admired in themselves. . . . Administrative power . . . was one of the avenues for power by and on behalf of a class that understood authority not merely in terms of the equal rights of all the people, but more deeply in terms of their own rationality and specialized knowledge.
Democracies often make stupid choices. But I will take democracy over technocracy any day. Bureaucrats also make stupid choices, and bureaucrats are much less likely than democratic majorities to admit their mistakes and move on.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Corporate Law Professors Comment on Proposed HHS Definition of "Eligible Organization" for Hobby Lobby Accommodation
In response to the Department of Health and Human Services' Proposed Regulation and Request for Comments regarding the definition of "eligible organization" (see earlier post here) at least two groups of law professors have weighed in on the issue.
The first comment letter, available here, was submitted by the U.C. Berkeley corporate law professors and encourages the Department to adopt a definition based upon the veil piercing theory. "We ... propose that for purposes of defining an “[W]e ... suggest that shareholders of a corporation should have to certify that they and the corporation have a unity in identity and interests, and therefore the corporation should be viewed as the shareholders’ alter ego." The comments argue that utilizing the veil-piercing theory avoids the consequences of a setting an arbitrary number of shareholders thus creating a rule that would be "seriously under-and-over-inclusive, capturing corporations that meet the numerical test but for which shareholders are not the alter egos of the corporation, as well as failing to capture corporations with a relatively large number of shareholders that are all united in their interests and are alter egos of one another."
The second comment letter on which I worked and was joined by some editors of this blog as signatories, is available here. This comment letter, signed by 43 corporate law professors, was produced through the coordinating efforts of the The Public Rights / Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School headed by Katherine Franke, and the project's executive director, Kara Loewentheil. This letter too encourages the HHS to adopt an approach that requires an "identity of interests." These comments suggest a blueprint for establishing an identity of interest, namely a focus on "entities (1) with a limited number of equity holders/owners, (2) that demonstrate religious commitment, and (3) submit evidence of unanimous consent of equity holders to seek an accommodation on an annual basis." The comments provide additional criteria under each of these three elements to operationalize the holding in Hobby Lobby.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Maryland State Senator and American University Washington College of Law professor Jamie B. Raskin recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post, A shareholder solution to ‘Citizens United’. In the piece, he explains that
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, “an association that has taken on the corporate form,” as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders’ money on political campaigns without their consent.
Senator Raskin further notes that the Congress doesn't appear interested in moving forward with the Disclose Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has not pursued requiring campaign spending disclosures. In response, the senator has a proposal:
Our best hope for change is with the state governments that regulate corporate entities throughout the year and receive regular filings from them. I am introducing legislation in January that will require managers of Maryland-registered corporations who wish to engage in political spending for their shareholders to post all political expenditures on company Web sites within 48 hours and confirm that any political spending fairly reflects the explicit preference of shareholders owning a majority interest in the company.
Further, if no “majority will” of the shareholders can form to spend money for political candidates — because most shares are owned by institutions forbidden to participate in partisan campaigns — then the corporation will be prohibited from using its resources on political campaigns.
Back in early 2010, as a guest blogger here, I wrote a post, Citizens United: States, where I noted my reaction to the case, which was that I wondered how states would react and that the case made the issue "an internal governance issue, which is a state-level issue." (Please click below to read more.)
Sunday, September 14, 2014
This coming Tuesday, I am scheduled to provide a brief overview of the corporate law/theory aspects of Hobby Lobby as part of the University of Akron’s Supreme Court Roundup. What follows are the seven key quotes from the opinion that I plan to focus on (time permitting) in order to highlight what I see as the key relevant issues raised by the opinion. Comments are appreciated.
Issue 1: Did corporate theory play a role in Hobby Lobby?
While I believe the majority made a pitch for applying a pragmatic, anti-theoretical approach (“When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of … people.” Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2768 (2014)), the following quote strikes me as conveying an underlying aggregate view of corporations:
In holding that Conestoga, as a “secular, for-profit corporation,” lacks RFRA protection, the Third Circuit wrote as follows: “General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” 724 F.3d, at 385 (emphasis added). All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, “separate and apart from” the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.
134 S. Ct. at 2768.
September 14, 2014 in Business Associations, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Religion, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, September 12, 2014
In 2007, J. W. Verret (George Mason) and then Chief Justice Myron Steele authored an article entitled Delaware's Guidance: Ensuring Equity for the Modern Witenagemot, which discussed "some of the extrajudicial activities in which members of the Delaware judiciary engage to minimize the systemic indeterminacy resulting from the resolution of economic disputes by a court of equity."
One of these extrajudicial activities is authoring or co-authoring law review articles. In this post, I am not going to weigh in on whether Delaware judges should be authoring law review articles, but rather, I simply note that there are two recent law review articles and one recent book chapter by Delaware judges that warrant our attention.
John Maynard Keynes is said to have observed, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" In Delaware's Choice, Professor Subramanian argues that the facts underlying the constitutionality of Section 203 have changed. Assuming his facts are correct, and the Professor says that no one has challenged his account to date, then they have implications for more than Section 203. They potentially extend to Delaware's jurisprudence regarding a board's ability to maintain a stockholder rights plan, which becomes a preclusive defense if a bidder cannot wage a proxy contest for control of the target board with a realistic possibility of success. Professor Subramanian's facts may call for rethinking not only the constitutionality of Section 203, but also the extent of a board's ability to maintain a rights plan.
One important aspect of Citizens United has been overlooked: the tension between the conservative majority’s view of for-profit corporations, and the theory of for-profit corporations embraced by conservative thinkers. This article explores the tension between these conservative schools of thought and shows that Citizens United may unwittingly strengthen the arguments of conservative corporate theory’s principal rival.
Citizens United posits that stockholders of for-profit corporations can constrain corporate political spending and that corporations can legitimately engage in political spending. Conservative corporate theory is premised on the contrary assumptions that stockholders are poorly-positioned to monitor corporate managers for even their fidelity to a profit maximization principle, and that corporate managers have no legitimate ability to reconcile stockholders’ diverse political views. Because stockholders invest in for-profit corporations for financial gain, and not to express political or moral values, conservative corporate theory argues that corporate managers should focus solely on stockholder wealth maximization and non-stockholder constituencies and society should rely upon government regulation to protect against corporate overreaching. Conservative corporate theory’s recognition that corporations lack legitimacy in this area has been strengthened by market developments that Citizens United slighted: that most humans invest in the equity markets through mutual funds under section 401(k) plans, cannot exit these investments as a practical matter, and lack any rational ability to influence how corporations spend in the political process.
Because Citizens United unleashes corporate wealth to influence who gets elected to regulate corporate conduct and because conservative corporate theory holds that such spending may only be motivated by a desire to increase corporate profits, the result is that corporations are likely to engage in political spending solely to elect or defeat candidates who favor industry-friendly regulatory policies, even though human investors have far broader concerns, including a desire to be protected from externalities generated by corporate profit-seeking. Citizens United thus undercuts conservative corporate theory’s reliance upon regulation as an answer to corporate externality risk, and strengthens the argument of its rival theory that corporate managers must consider the best interests of employees, consumers, communities, the environment, and society — and not just stockholders — when making business decisions.
One frequently cited distinction between alternative entities — such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships — and their corporate counterparts is the greater contractual freedom accorded alternative entities. Consistent with this vision, discussions of alternative entities tend to conjure up images of arms-length bargaining similar to what occurs between sophisticated parties negotiating a commercial agreement, such as a joint venture, with the parties successfully tailoring the contract to the unique features of their relationship.
As judges who collectively have over 20 years of experience deciding disputes involving alternative entities, we use this chapter to surface some questions regarding the extent to which this common understanding of alternative entities is sound. Based on the cases we have decided and our reading of many other cases decided by our judicial colleagues, we do not discern evidence of arms-length bargaining between sponsors and investors in the governing instruments of alternative entities. Furthermore, it seems that when investors try to evaluate contract terms, the expansive contractual freedom authorized by the alternative entity statutes hampers rather than helps. A lack of standardization prevails in the alternative entity arena, imposing material transaction costs on investors with corresponding effects for the cost of capital borne by sponsors, without generating offsetting benefits. Because contractual drafting is a difficult task, it is also not clear that even alternative entity managers are always well served by situational deviations from predictable defaults.
In light of these problems, it seems to us that a sensible set of standard fiduciary defaults might benefit all constituents of alternative entities. In this chapter, we propose a framework that would not threaten the two key benefits that motivated the rise of LPs and LLCs as alternatives to corporations: (i) the elimination of double taxation at the entity level and (ii) the ability to contract out of the corporate opportunity doctrine. For managers, this framework would provide more predictable rules of governance and a more reliable roadmap to fulfilling their duties in conflict-of-interest situations. The result arguably would be both fairer and more efficient than the current patchwork yielded by the unilateral drafting efforts of entity sponsors.
Monday, September 1, 2014
On Friday, Bill Haslam, the Governor of the State of Tennessee, spoke at a session sponsored by the C. Warren Neel Corporate Governance Center on The University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus. He is our former city mayor and a hometown favorite for many. I always enjoy his talks.
His talk on Friday focused on how Tennessee is attracting businesses and jobs and how education--including higher education--plays a role. But before he honed in on that topic, he asked an intriguing, albeit basic, question that operates on theoretical, political, and practical planes. That question: How is government similar to and different from private enterprise? He wanted audience participation. I waited to see how everyone would react. He got lots of good answers that cut across economics, management, finance, and governance.
Provocatively (at least for me), he characterized his gubernatorial role as akin to the role of a chief executive officer in a corporation. He has served as a corporate manager (president of his family's firm and the CEO of a division of another firm), and his vision of the state gubernatorial role is clearly framed by that experience. He actually called the legislature his "board of directors" in his role as governor.
Well, after that analogy, I just had to contribute to the discussion with a comment. I endorsed the governor's view of his position, but I also noted that the executive, as the head of a separate branch of a government of three branches, has power independent of the power afforded to the legislature. That is when things got interesting, at least for me.
Friday, August 22, 2014
I love a good debate and appreciate the opportunity (provided by Professor Bainbridge’s thoughtful post yesterday) to engage a bit more deeply on the thesis of Wednesday’s post suggesting an approach for how to incorporate Citizens United and Hobby Lobby into the survey BA/Corporations course.
By way of recap and ruthless summary, Stephen Bainbridge wants nothing to do with these issues (or other constitutional law questions) in his course because of the:
- Existing emphasis of public law over private law and resulting imbalance in law school curriculum;
- False impression that constitutional law is the holy grail of law teaching and practice;
- These cases present a hornet’s nest of controversial and divisive topics; and
- Coverage constraints. The menu options of what we can (should) teach is already more ambitious than time allows.
And to no surprise to anyone, anywhere: Stephen Bainbridge is right on the money with all of these points.
As a survey course and one that almost every student in my law school (Georgia State) takes, I feel a responsibility to provide context for the subject matter that we teach and to do my best to “hook” students who didn’t come to my class with an interest in corporate law.
First, hear me now when I say that corporate law matters. It matters to the business owners who form and operate a firm. It matters to the individuals and other businesses who interact with the firm as a supplier or customer or creditor or employee. These first two points are significantly incorporated into the traditional BA syllabus. Corporate law also matters to general members of society because corporations wield tremendous power in elections, in lobbying (regulatory capture anyone?), in shaping retirement savings, in religious and reproductive rights debates and setting other cultural norms around issues like corruption, sustainability, living wage, etc. Multi-national corporations with ubiquitous brand recognition aren’t the only powerful actors. The Hobby Lobby ruling tells us that those creatures governed largely by private law—the closely held corporation—also play a major role. To teach corporate law in a vacuum that ignores this broader context is to teach nuclear physics without discussing the atom bomb and its consequences (if I can use hyperbole). Should the broader context be the focus of the class? Absolutely not. Can it be woven into context setting discussions or used as a way to elicit student participation? In my class at least.
Second, not every student in BA enrolled out of pure self-interest; not everyone has a business background. I consider my course to be a great equalizer in law school: we take the health sciences majors, the B-schoolers, the political science and the anthropology kids and at the end of the semester everyone can explain basic financial concepts, the different menu options of firms, proxy fights, and even poison pills. We do this best when we can engage all of the students, which sometimes means helping students see why it might matter to them and how the subject connects with the things that they care about. For some that will be the clever ways you can use private agreements to shape outcomes and hedge against risk, for others it will be seeing why corporate law matters even if you don’t care about corporations (see paragraph above).
My last point is that being an effective classroom teacher generally requires a sense of self-awareness about your comfort zone, your strengths, and your weaknesses (among other things). I have lots of colleagues, at GSU and other institutions (many of them BLPB editors), whom I admire, but if I tried to teach class the way that they did, I would fall short of the mark. We teach to our own strengths and infuse classes with a sense of our own personality and passion. I don’t think I have convinced anyone not previously inclined to incorporate these materials; and I wonder if Stephen has caused any course corrections with his thoughts. We may have just reinforced the positions that you already held. Either way, happy teaching to all readers who have started or are preparing to start the new semester and the new school year.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
An Updated Draft of “Corporate Social Responsibility & Concession Theory” and Some Further Thoughts on Hobby Lobby
I have posted an updated draft of my latest piece, “Corporate Social Responsibility & Concession Theory” (forthcoming __ Wm. & Mary Bus. L. Rev. __) on SSRN (here). Here is the abstract:
This Essay examines three related propositions: (1) Voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) fails to effectively advance the agenda of a meaningful segment of CSR proponents; (2) None of the three dominant corporate governance theories – director primacy, shareholder primacy, or team production theory – support mandatory CSR as a normative matter; and, (3) Corporate personality theory, specifically concession theory, can be a meaningful source of leverage in advancing mandatory CSR in the face of opposition from the three primary corporate governance theories. In examining these propositions, this Essay makes the additional claims that Citizens United: (A) supports the proposition that corporate personality theory matters; (B) undermines one of the key supports of the shareholder wealth maximization norm; and (C) highlights the political nature of this debate. Finally, I note that the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision does not undermine my CSR claims, contrary to the suggestions of some commentators.
I expect to have at least one more meaningful round of edits, so all comments are welcome and appreciated.
As to the last point of the abstract, let me explain why I don’t think Hobby Lobby has meaningfully expanded the ability of corporations to pursue socially responsible actions lacking in any colorable shareholder wealth justification, which, in light of the business judgment rule, is where I believe much of the interesting CSR action is taking place. I’ll first briefly go through my understanding of what the Court held in Hobby Lobby, and then see if anything new is added to our understanding of corporations’ ability to pursue CSR activities. My analysis proceeds roughly as follows:
1. Are corporations capable of exercising religion?
As a matter of statutory construction, determining whether corporations can exercise religion for purposes of the RFRA requires looking to the Dictionary Act, which includes corporations under the definition of "person" unless the context indicates otherwise. I agree with Justice Ginsburg that the context of exercising religion is one that properly excludes corporations. In addition, due to my view of the corporation as being fundamentally a creature of the state, I have Establishment Clause concerns about allowing the recipients of the state’s corporate subsidy to further religious ends via that grant. (I address some of the related unconstitutional conditions arguments here.) But in the end, the Court said corporations can exercise religion, so that’s likely the final word till a Justice retires.
2. Is the exercise of religion by corporations ultra vires?
Given that the Court has deemed corporations capable of exercising religion, the next question is whether they have been granted the power to do so by the state legislatures that created them. In other words, is the exercise of religion ultra vires? When Justice Alito says that “the laws … permit for-profit corporations to pursue ‘any lawful purpose’ or ‘act,’ including the pursuit of profit in conformity with the owners' religious principles,” I believe he is best understood as affirming that religious exercise, like charitable giving, is not ultra vires, nothing more.
3. Can corporations sacrifice shareholder wealth to further religious exercise?
So, corporations have the ability to exercise religion and it is not ultra vires for them to do so. None of that, however, should change the fact that if the religious exercise does not somehow advance shareholder wealth and any shareholder legitimately complains, then a viable waste or fiduciary duty claim has been asserted. Alito seems to recognize this point when he qualifies his conclusion about the viability of abandoning profit-maximization with: “So long as its owners agree ….” As Jay Brown put it (here), “this is a rule of unanimity…. it doesn't actually alter the board's legal duties.” In other words, I agree with my co-blogger Josh Fershee when he argues (here) that Hobby Lobby should not be read to create some new First Amendment defense for controlling shareholders or directors facing viable claims of waste of corporate assets or duty of loyalty violations.
Assuming all the foregoing is correct, I don’t see anything new in Hobby Lobby vis-à-vis a corporation’s ability to engage in CSR activities. Obviously, it doesn’t take much to satisfy the business judgment rule, but that’s not the issue. If there is any new ground here it should arguably create a defense where no rational business purpose is asserted (I don’t believe Hobby Lobby has redefined “business” for purposes of the waste doctrine). That’s precisely what makes benefit corporations special and necessary – they provide such a defense for corporations pursuing activities with a public benefit but open to the challenge that there is no concomitant shareholder wealth benefit. As Robert T. Esposito & Shawn Pelsinger put it (here), “the principal argument for social enterprise forms rests on the assumption that corporate law and its duty to maximize shareholder wealth could not accommodate for-profit, mission-driven entities.”
So, has Hobby Lobby somehow meaningfully shifted the playing field when it comes to CSR? I don’t think so.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
"How Hobby Lobby Undermined The Very Idea of a Corporation" http://t.co/Rq4F6LKpCr— Ian Bogost (@ibogost) July 5, 2014
"how the common law has personified the state and how those personifications affect ... state responsibility" http://t.co/faAgRTY8cR— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) July 10, 2014
ICYMI: "Hosanna-Tabor..appears to [=] religious groups are different from secular groups for constitutional purposes" http://t.co/rydH7PM1zr— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) July 10, 2014
"a corporation has no purposes..separate from those of the people who own and control it" & the state that created it http://t.co/J157qm2PTK— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) July 11, 2014
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Let me start by publicly announcing a forthcoming panel discussion at this year’s AALS Annual Meeting, tentatively titled “The Role of Corporate Personality Theory in Corporate Regulation.” As the organizer of this panel, I am extremely grateful to Stephen Bainbridge, Margaret Blair, Lisa Fairfax, and Elizabeth Pollman for agreeing to participate in what promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable discussion. For those of you who like to plan ahead, the panel is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5, from 2:10 to 3:10 (part of the Section on Socio-Economics Annual Meeting program).
Given Stephen Bainbridge’s pending participation, I was interested to read a couple of his posts from a few weeks ago wherein he asked (here), “When was the last time anybody said anything new about corporate personhood?” and concluded (here), “I struggle to come up with anything new to say about the issue, when people have been correctly disposing of the legal fiction of corporate personality for at least 126 years!”
While I understand that asserting there is nothing new to say on a topic is not necessarily the same thing as saying it is not worth talking about, I still find myself motivated to explain why I think talking about corporate personality theory continues to constitute valuable scholarly activity (and, yes, I will connect all this to Hobby Lobby).
First of all, some qualifiers: (1) I distinguish corporate personality theory from corporate personhood because a thumbs up on corporate personhood (i.e., acknowledging that corporations can sue and be sued, etc.) still leaves a number of important questions regarding the nature of this “person,” which I believe theories of corporate personality (typically: artificial entity theory, real-entity theory, or aggregate theory) are well-positioned to answer. (2) While theories of corporate governance (typically: shareholder primacy, director primacy, or team-production theory) are distinct from theories of corporate personality, I believe there are at least some legal issues that are profitably analyzed by viewing both sets of theories as constituting a pool from which to choose an answer. With those introductory propositions in place, here are three reasons why I believe corporate personality theory still matters:
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
The following is a contribution from guest blogger Sarah Haan, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Idaho College of Law.
Business law professors no doubt felt relief yesterday when the news media corrected course and stopped distilling Hobby Lobby into a sound bite about “family-owned” corporations. The three corporations challenging the Affordable Care Act in the case – Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel – happen to be family-owned, but the majority opinion, penned by Justice Alito, was careful to articulate its holding as applying to “closely held” corporations, of which family-owned corporations are just a subset.
Commentators (like the Business Law Profs Blog’s Anne Tucker) have noted that the Court’s failure to define what it meant by “closely held” is significant. By using the ambiguous phrase, and by suggesting that the opposite of a closely held corporation is a “publicly held corporation,” Justice Alito was opening the door to RFRA free exercise claims by a wide range of companies, the vast majority of which will bear no likeness to mom-and-pop businesses. Generally, a “closely held” corporation is one that has a “small number” of shareholders (ALI Principles of Corporate Governance), or, under an alternate theory, one in which the identity of owners and managers is “substantially identical.” Importantly, there is no consensus about how many shareholders a “closely held” corporation can have. Under Delaware law, a statutory “close” corporation (a subset of closely-held corporations) can have as many as 30 shareholders. Under Maryland law, there is no limit. “’Closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small,’” Justice Ginsberg rightly pointed out in her dissent.
But there is more to Justice Alito’s slight-of-hand than the murky distinction between a “closely held” corporation and a “family-owned” one. The government argued that giving corporations free exercise rights under RFRA will lead to religious battles among shareholders that distract from the economic objectives of the corporation. In a paragraph that echoed the majority’s discussion of the “mechanisms of corporate democracy” in Citizens United, Justice Alito explained why shareholders’ religious disagreements are little cause for concern:
The owners of closely held corporations may – and sometimes do – disagree about the conduct of business. And even if RFRA did not exist, the owners of a company might well have a dispute about religion. For example, some might want a company’s stores to remain open on the Sabbath in order to make more money, and others might want the stores to close for religious reasons. State corporate law provides a ready means for resolving any conflicts by, for example, dictating how a corporation can establish its governing structure. Courts will turn to that structure and the underlying state law in resolving disputes.
In this paragraph, the Court acknowledges that shareholders in a closely held corporation might not have the same religious views, but assumes that such a corporation can still exercise a religion under RFRA. All shareholders at each of the three corporations in Hobby Lobby held the same set of religious views, but nowhere does the Court suggest that this is a requirement of RFRA personhood. To the contrary, this passage reveals that the Court does not mean to limit corporate religious exercise to only those closely held corporations whose shareholders all agree about religion. In fact, the Court anticipates that shareholders of companies exercising a religion under RFRA will have religious disputes, and it views the mechanisms of state corporate law as the proper means for sorting out those disagreements.
And here’s the rub: The most basic principles of state corporate law allow a controlling shareholder to, well, control the corporation. So what the Court has really decided is that a single controlling shareholder, or a sub-group of shareholders with voting control, can make religious exercise decisions for the corporation, even over the objections of minority shareholders. Because that is how state corporate law resolves intra-corporate disputes.
In other words, the sincerely-held religious beliefs of a closely held corporation may just be the sincerely-held religious beliefs of its controlling shareholder.
Friday, June 20, 2014
In various airports and airplanes over the past few weeks I read University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum’s (University of Chicago) book on religious equality in America entitled Liberty of Conscience (2008). Even though this book predates the Hobby Lobby case, it addresses a number of underlying issues at play in the case.
More after the break.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
In March, the Fourth Circuit held in Carnell Construction Corp. v. Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority, that racial identity can be imputed to a corporation for purposes of standing under Title VI, citing to case precedent from the several circuits allowing 1981 claims to be raised by corporations.
“[W]e observe that several other federal appellate courts have considered this question, and have declined to bar on prudential grounds race discrimination claims brought by minority-owned corporations that meet constitutional standing requirements.”
The Fourth Circuit had to deal with the following language in Arlington Heights, 429 U.S. 252, 263 (1977): “As a corporation, MHDC has no racial identity and cannot be the direct target of the petitioners' alleged discrimination. In the ordinary case, a party is denied standing to assert the rights of third persons.” In Arlington Heights, the Supreme Court however did not need to “decide whether the circumstances of this case would justify departure from that prudential limitation and permit MHDC to assert the constitutional rights of its prospective minority tenants. For we have at least one individual plaintiff who has demonstrated standing to assert these rights as his own.” (citations omitted). The dicta in Arlington Heights was not a barrier to imputing a racial identity to the corporation in the Fourth Circuit case.
In a clear statement, the Fourth Circuit concluded that:
“We agree with the Ninth Circuit that a minority-owned corporation may establish an “imputed racial identity” for purposes of demonstrating standing to bring a claim of race discrimination under federal law. We hold that a corporation that is minority-owned and has been properly certified as such under applicable law can be the direct object of discriminatory action and establish standing to bring an action based on such discrimination.”
Chief Justice Roberts was concerned about the connection of racial identities for corporations and corporate free exercise of religion as raised in the Hobby Lobby and related cases. Note that fellow BLPB blogger Josh Fershee wrote about the racial identity of a corporation on BLPB here arguing why religious discrimination claims by corporations should be allowed and how the analysis would work. Professor Bainbridge weighed in on the issue as well.
Here is my best response as to why holding that corporations can have a racial identity is not necessarily fatal to the claim that corporations cannot have a religious identity for purposes of free exercise under the 1st Amendment, and why religious discrimination cases for corporations may also be more difficult than racial discrimination cases.
Line drawing. In the Carnell case as well as in others, the corporations at issue had been certified as a minority/women owned business at the state level, which is treated as a form of pre-requisite for such standing to assert a racial discrimination claim. There is no similar bright line test or religious entity process for a for-profit corporations. Indeed the very process of such a certification may implicate other 1st Amendment protections for freedom of speech and association.
Third Parties & Equity. Second, imputing the racial identity to the corporation for purposes of a Title VI claim of racial discrimination upholds the minimum anti-discrimination standard against third parties. So in the race cases, the identity of the owners is imputed to the corporation to prevent third parties from evading a legal standard. In the corporate free exercise of religion context, the owners are requesting that their individual religious beliefs be imputed to the corporation to allow it to evade compliance with a law. Anti-discrimination laws are applied generally and don’t allow a person to discriminate whether it is with an individual or through a corporation rather than exempting a corporation from a neutrally-applied, generally applicable law.
This last points get to the debate, in part, about the relevance of reverse veil piercing (RVP) on which Professor Stephen Bainbridge has advocated as a framework to resolve the mandate issue in Hobby Lobby. The corporate veil is rejected in both CVP and RVP when equity requires and that is usually dependent upon a third party interest that is best protected by rejecting the legal fiction of a separate corporate form. In the anti-discrimination/racial identity there is an equitable argument that the third party cannot discriminate against the corporation simply because it is owned by minorities. What is the equitable argument in Hobby Lobby? The fairness rationale is weakened here, especially in light of the interests of the 13.5K employees receiving health care coverage as a form of compensation for their work for the company. Instead RVP, it must rest, if at all, on the public policy justification advanced by Professor Bainbridge. But again, the public policy argument cuts both for and against RVP. There is a public policy argument in protecting/promoting religious freedom as there is in facilitating access to health care, including forms of health care that Congress has determined to be necessary for women (and families) under the ACA.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Our friends at The Conglomerate recently conducted an excellent online symposium on the Hobby Lobby case.
All of the posts have been collected here.
It was refreshing to read such a thoughtful and balanced set of posts.
In my article, “The Silent Role of Corporate Theory in the Supreme Court’s Campaign Finance Cases,” 15 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 831, I criticized the Supreme Court justices for failing to acknowledge the role of competing conceptualizations of the corporation in their corporate political speech cases. I noted, however, that former Chief Justice Rehnquist was arguably the lone modern justice to deserve at least some praise in this area.
Justice Rehnquist's stand-alone dissent in Bellotti provides arguably the sole example in these opinions of a Justice affirmatively adopting a theory of the corporation for purposes of determining the constitutional rights of corporations--though not via the express adoption of one of the traditionally recognized theories. Specifically, Justice Rehnquist relied on Justice Marshall's Dartmouth College opinion to conclude that: “Since it cannot be disputed that the mere creation of a corporation does not invest it with all the liberties enjoyed by natural persons . . . our inquiry must seek to determine which constitutional protections are ‘incidental to its very existence.”’ Thus, while it may be true that “a corporation's right of commercial speech . . . might be considered necessarily incidental to the business of a commercial corporation[, i]t cannot be so readily concluded that the right of political expression is equally necessary to carry out the functions of a corporation organized for commercial purposes.” I would argue that this is a formulation most aligned with concession theory because not only does Justice Rehnquist rely on Dartmouth College, but he also goes on to say: “I would think that any particular form of organization upon which the State confers special privileges or immunities different from those of natural persons would be subject to like regulation, whether the organization is a labor union, a partnership, a trade association, or a corporation.” Stefan J. Padfield, The Silent Role of Corporate Theory in the Supreme Court's Campaign Finance Cases, 15 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 831, 853 (2013) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Bos. v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978)).
While this is only one data point, I think it suggests the former Chief Justice would have been hesitant to grant corporations any form of free exercise rights, since it is difficult to see how free exercise rights are more incidental to a corporation’s existence than political speech rights. Cf. Kent Greenawalt, Religion and the Rehnquist Court, 99 Nw. U. L. Rev. 145, 146 (2004) (“With limited qualifications, the Rehnquist Court has abandoned the possibility of constitutionally-required free exercise exemptions.”).
For more on concession theory, I shamelessly suggest my more recent article, “Rehabilitating Concession Theory,” 66 Okla. L. Rev. 327 (2014) (“the reports of concession theory's demise have been greatly exaggerated”). And if you find that of interest, you can check out my latest SSRN posting, “Corporate Social Responsibility & Concession Theory.”
Sunday, March 23, 2014
I'm trying out a new weekly blog post theme, "The Weekly BLT," wherein I highlight a few interesting business law tweets that I've come across in the past week that have not yet made it to the BLPB.
"The problem ... is that ... Kiobel ... ignore[s] the robust corporate identity [recognized in Citizens United]" http://t.co/RI0BefWUUr— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) March 18, 2014
"Only ... 10 percent of S&P 500 companies reported the number of environmental fines paid." http://t.co/rthzXPwy2w— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) March 17, 2014
John Cunningham: "one of the best discussions I’ve ever seen about the application of veil-piercing doctrine to LLCs" http://t.co/xJae7nGqQm— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) March 17, 2014
"traditional theory about shareholder voting..does not reflect recent fundamental changes as to who shareholders are" http://t.co/e9LsR4YUtp— Stefan Padfield (@ProfPadfield) March 17, 2014
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I have posted the first rough draft of my latest project, “Corporate Social Responsibility & Concession Theory,” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Essay examines three related propositions: (1) Voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) fails to effectively advance the agenda of a meaningful segment of CSR proponents; (2) None of the three dominant corporate governance theories – director primacy, shareholder primacy, or team production theory – support mandatory CSR as a normative matter; and, (3) Corporate personality theory, specifically concession theory, can be a meaningful source of leverage in advancing mandatory CSR in the face of opposition from the three primary corporate governance theories. In examining these propositions, this Essay makes the additional claims that Citizens United: (A) supports the proposition that corporate personality theory matters; (B) undermines one of the key supports of the shareholder wealth maximization norm; and (C) highlights the political nature of this debate.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
As previously noted on this blog, 44 law professors filed an amicus brief in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., outlining several corporate law issues in the arts-and-craft store chain’s request for a religious exemption from complying with contraceptive requirements in the Affordable Care Act. That brief prompted several responses and sparked a corporate law debate, which is being recapped and weighed in on at Business Law Prof Blog (see earlier thoughtful posts: here, here, and here by Stefan Padfield and Haskell Murray).
So what is at stake in this case? Religious exemptions for corporations. The role of benefit corporations and other hybrid, triple bottom line entities. The classic entity theory vs. aggregate theory debate of how do we treat the legal fiction of individuals acting through businesses and businesses acting, in part, on behalf of people. The role and future of Corporate Social Responsibility generally. Corporate personhood. Corporate constitutional rights. And existential questions like can corporations pray? You know, easy stuff.
CSR. Our laws set the floor; they establish the minimum that social actors must do and that other members in our society can expect to receive. Corporate social responsibility asks companies to do more than their minimum legal obligations and to do so for a host of reasons, some of which may be religious. The owners of Hobby Lobby can elect a corporate board that will authorize the company to donate to religious charities, to reimburse employees for religious expenses, to provide paid leave for a mission trip, or to not operate on Sundays. (Who here hasn’t craved a chicken biscuit on a road trip only to realize that Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sunday? Just us in the south?). Under what I will call the standard state corporate law regime, corporations can take actions like increasing their use of renewable energy sources, implementing diversity programs for women and minorities, refusing to support tobacco products and other actions that are in line with CSR. Whether for religious or environmental or other conscience-driven reasons, a corporation may take these actions and the directors of the corporation (under whose governance the acts took place) are protected by the business judgment rule in the event that any shareholder challenges the program or expenditure as a form of waste or conflict of interest.
Benefit Corporations & Hybrid Entities. For companies incorporated in states with benefit corporate statutes or laws that recognize hybrid entities interested in seeking (but not always maximizing) profits and other goals, there is even greater protection. These entities contain provisions in their charters identifying their “other” purpose, the shareholders are on notice of the dual pursuit and the corporate actions are protected by statutes recognizing this charter-based exception to profit maximization. In the event a shareholder sues for waste or conflicts of interest, not only is the business judgment rule available to protect the corporate actors, but the validity of the corporate action is strengthened by the special legislation. [This in no way captures the full scope of benefit corporation and hybrid entity legislation, but this post is about religious exemptions for corporations, so please excuse the over simplification here.]
Hobby Lobby. The owners of Hobby Lobby are not asking to do more, rather they are asking to do less. Hobby Lobby want to provide less than the standards established in the Affordable Care Act, and less than their competitors will be required to provide. Who would complain if Hobby Lobby failed to comply with the ACA? The employees without access to contraceptive medicine, and the federal government. This isn’t about the business judgment rule and whether owners, acting through boards of directors, can run companies in line with their view of religious or social or environmental consciousness. This case asks can the religious beliefs of owners of a corporation entitle that corporation to do less under the law and as compared to their competitors. On these grounds, deciding against a religious based exemption for Hobby Lobby does no harm to CSR or benefit corporations.
The Hypothetical. If the privately held religious belief of owners can change legal obligations for corporate actors, this could pose a threat to the stability, reliability and uniformity of the floor that the law sets. Poking a hole in the floor for religious exemptions based upon the owners’ religious beliefs may seem like a small concession in the Hobby Lobby case. If religion is a means to opt-out of regulations and requirements, and if doing so could lower costs, shortcut compliance obligations and otherwise provide a competitive edge there will be robust incentives for businesses to claim such an exception in a likely wide array of issues.
The Horrible. The sacred ground of religion has long been an unhappy refuge for arguments in support of racial, gender, religious and sexual-orientation discrimination. Every major social movement that I can think of has met resistance shrouded in religious beliefs. The right for women to vote (and the continuing progress towards equality), desegregating schools, the Civil Rights Acts, and our most modern example: gay rights. Consider the law that the Arizona Legislature passed last week that would exempt businesses refusing to serve same-sex couples from civil liability on the grounds of a religious exemption. Substantially similar legislation is pending in Georgia.
Religion, if we have it, should call us to do more and to be better. As individuals, we may disagree about what “more” and “better” means. I have no doubt that the owners of Hobby Lobby believe that their stance on birth control is consistent with their view of “more” and “better”. As individuals, they can express that value in many ways. As owners of a corporation they can express those values by electing directors that will govern the company and possibly pursue corporate donations to abstinence charities, promote natural family planning among employees via posters in the break room, and other avenues. The individual values of the owners should not be used to excuse the corporation from compliance with the legal standard. Individual religious views should not lower the minimum standards for corporate actions in this context, or others.