How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights
Email this 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.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-87140-712-2
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Liveright/Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2017


NonfictionPRIVATE EMPIRE by Steve Coll
by Steve Coll
NonfictionON TYRANNY by Timothy Snyder
by Timothy Snyder
NonfictionPOLITICS AT WORK by Alexander Hertel-Fernandez
by Alexander Hertel-Fernandez