cover image We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

Adam Winkler. Liveright, $28.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-87140-712-2

Journalist and law professor Winkler (Gunfight) evenhandedly traces key interactions between the Supreme Court and U.S. corporations to demonstrate how the controversial Citizens United decision was merely “the most recent manifestation of a long, and long overlooked, corporate rights movement.” Winkler starts his history in colonial America, showing how corporations such as the Virginia Company and Massachusetts Bay Company shaped American life from the very start. The rest of the book focuses on pivotal Supreme Court decisions, from 1809’s Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, over the corporate right to sue, through 2014’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., over religious rights. Winkler’s research is impressively thorough and wide-ranging, including original court records and news coverage as well as other historians’ analyses and interpretations. His argument is well supported throughout. Historical personages, from the well-known (Andrew Jackson, Henry Ford) to the more obscure (Roscoe Conkling, Charles Evan Hughes) to the downright surprising (Cecil B. DeMille), make appearances. He somewhat overstuffs the book with facts and backstory, some of which are only tangential to his project, but all are worthy of attention. Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue. (Feb.)