Corporate Personhood and the Corporate Persona

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Citi-zens United v. FEC that restrictions on corporate political speech were unconstitutional because of the First Amendment rights granted corporations as a result of their status as “persons” under the law. Following this decision, debate has been rekindled among legal scholars about the meaning of “corporate personhood.” This debate is not new. Over the past two centuries, scholars have considered what corporate personhood means and entails. This debate has resulted in numerous theories about corporate personhood that have come into and out of favor over the years, including the “artificial person” theory, the “contractual” theory, the “real entity” theory, and the “new contractual” theory. This Article revisits that debate by examining the various functions of corporate personhood including four functions I have identified in previous work: (1) providing continuity and a clear line of succession in property and contract, (2) providing an “identifiable persona” to serve as a central actor in carrying out the business activity, (3) providing a mechanism for separating pools of assets belonging to the corporation from those belonging to the individuals participating in the enterprise, and (4) providing a framework for self-governance of certain business or commercial activity. In this Article, I focus on the historical evolution of the corporate form, and specifically on how and why corporations have tended to develop clearly identifiable corporate personas. This corporate persona function is highly important to today’s corporations and, because of this function, corporations can become more than simply the sum of their parts. This Article suggests that scholars should keep the corporate persona function in mind in evaluating corporate personhood theories, and return to a theory that sees corporations as more than a bundle of contracts.

The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.