Corporate rights movement

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See also: Corporation

The corporate rights movement desires extension of the traditional legal definition of the corporation, from a legal entity that has existence and can own assets, into more traditional areas of human rights, such as free speech and voting.

United States

U.S. law does not contain a general definition of "person", but the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) [1] “person” is defined by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA),, as “includ[ing] an individual, partnership, corporation, association, or public or private organization other than an agency.” [2]

In the United States, the movement is often seen to have become serious after Lewis Powell, then in private law practice, wrote an analysis in 1971, to a friend on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, shortly before his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.[3] It is certainly not the only basis for the approach.[4]

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) had long been seen as opposing the extension of such rights, with the key precedents being Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce[5] (1990) and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003) [6] (2003). The Austin decision included,

State law grants corporations special advantages – such as

limited liability, perpetual life, and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets . . . These state-created advantages not only allow corporations to play a dominant role in the Nation’s economy, but also permit them to use ‘resources amassed in the economic marketplace’ to obtain ‘an unfair advantage in the political


Speech rights

Recently, however, the free speech rights of corporations were extended to allow them political speech, by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

Privacy rights

On 28 September 28, 2010, SCOTUS agreed to hear a case, Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc. Docket No. 09-1279. The appellant argues that Exemption 7(C) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), dealing with “personal privacy,” protects not only the privacy of individuals, but also the privacy of corporate entities. The FOIA was based on the Administrative Procedure Act.

In the case, defendant, AT&T, was a vendor to a federal program administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) geared at increasing schools’ access to advanced telecommunications technology. When AT&T discovered, in 2004 that it may have overcharged the Government for some work, it voluntarily reported that fact to the FCC. "The FCC Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) then conducted an investigation. As part of this investigation, AT&T produced various documents to the Bureau. In April 2005, a trade association representing some of AT&T’s competitors submitted a FOIA request for documents in this investigation file. AT&T submitted an objection to disclosure, arguing that FOIA’s exemptions prohibited disclosure." [2]

The Court unanimously, with Justice Kagan recusing herself since she had worked on the government case, supported the government position, in a decision rendered on 1 March 2011. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion, which included:

We reject the argument that because “person” is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase“personal privacy” in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well. The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations. We trust that AT&T will not take it personally.[7]



  1. 5 U.S.C. § 551(2)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Marie-Andree Weiss (6 October 2010), "Will corporations be recognized as having a right to privacy?", The Secure Times, an online forum of the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee
  3. Lewis Powell (23 August 1971), The Powell Memo
  4. Mark Schmitt (27 April 2005), "The Legend of the Powell Memo: The idea that one man mapped out the entire right-wing infrastructure is appealing. Too bad it's not true.", American Prospect
  5. 494 U.S. 652, 658-59
  6. 540 U. S. 93, 203–209
  7. 562 U. S. ____ (2011)