Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1986

Abstract

The corporation was born in chains but is everywhere free. That freedom was recently affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. In Bellotti, the Court overturned a Massachusetts criminal statute forbidding banks and business corporations to make expenditures intended to influence referenda concerning issues not "materially affecting" the corporation's "property, business, or assets." In doing so, the Court confirmed its discovery that commercial speech is not unprotected by the first amendment and announced a novel doctrine that corporate speech is not unprotected by the first amendment. Although several years have passed since Bellotti was decided, the case has received less attention than it deserves. As the Court's leading consideration of the speech rights of corporations, it is a landmark in first amendment law. Bellotti's significance is enhanced by the unusually direct judicial comments about, and indeed reliance on, theories of the first amendment. Because the case addresses for the first time an important constitutional problem, it presents with unusual clarity intriguing questions about styles in judicial reasoning. Finally, Bellotti is an event in the continning debate over the power of the corporation, as well as in the continning struggle against the corruption of politics. I seek in this Article to give the case the attention it merits on its own terms, as a problem in styles of constitutional reasoning, and as a chapter in the history of the uneasy relationship between the corporation and the law.


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