Group of people receiving a government charter permitting activities (primarily business) with certain of the rights and responsibilities of an individual.
Business corporations developed in the early United States mainly in banking and finance. In McCulloch v. Maryland
In Bank of Augusta v. Earle
From 1866 to 1875 Congress adopted a series of Civil Rights acts designed to prevent discrimination against African Americans. Although these did not apply to employment, they potentially limited the opportunities for corporations to discriminate in matters relating to property and contract. However, a series of Supreme Court cases beginning in 1876 (including the Civil Rights Cases, 1883) denied federal jurisdiction over discrimination by private persons.
The coming of the railroads in the middle of the nineteenth century provided the first major opportunity for use of the corporate form outside of financial business. The inherent monopolistic nature of most railroads soon led to state experiments with rate regulation. In 1877 the Court upheld the authority of states to impose such regulations in Munn v. Illinois. However, in Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois
By 1890, corporations had extended into many industries. Allegations of monopolistic practices against such firms as Standard Oil led to the adoption in 1890 of the Sherman Antitrust Act
State regulation of rates charged by public utilities such as water, gas, and electricity suppliers also led to appeals to the Court. In Smyth v. Ames
The Supreme Court’s anti-interventionist position brought it into conflict with the efforts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to deal with the economic depression of the 1930’s. The National Industrial Recovery Act
However, the Court then shifted to a permissive stance toward interventionist programs. It upheld the first federal minimum-wage law (1935) and the National Labor Relations Act
In the 1960’s, new federal economic interventions further restricted the discretionary management of business corporations. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 outlawed discrimination in employment, public accommodation, and housing. The Court upheld their constitutionality, repudiating the rulings of 1883, but sometimes had to rule on their applications. Therefore, in Los Angeles v. Manhart
In Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer
Cohen, William, and Jonathan D. Varat. Constitutional Law: Cases and Materials. 10th ed. Westbury, N.Y.: Foundation Press, 1997. Galub, Arthur L. The Burger Court, 1968-1984. Vol. 9 in The Supreme Court in American Life. Millwood, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1986. Miller, Arthur Selwyn. The Supreme Court and American Capitalism. New York: Free Press, 1968.
Civil Rights Acts
Contract, freedom of
McCulloch v. Maryland
Private corporation charters
Smyth v. Ames