The triumph of America’s companies

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We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. By Adam Winkler. Liveright; 496 pages; $28.95.

THE Citizens United ruling in 2010 was one of the most controversial in the history of America’s Supreme Court. The judges affirmed that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend their money to influence elections; the decision seemed to extinguish any hope of serious campaign-finance reform. As Adam Winkler’s fascinating book recounts, this was only the latest in a long line of corporate legal victories.

The rights of corporations were not debated in the state conventions that ratified the constitution, nor were companies mentioned in the Federalist Papers, the essays largely written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. But corporations have repeatedly been able to exploit laws meant to benefit others. In 1819 a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding Dartmouth College limited the rights of states to interfere in businesses set up by…Continue reading

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