Creating Rights for Legal Fictions

An interactive history of constitutional rights successively granted to legal fictions, and other related issues in American case law and legislation.

Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway v. Beckwith

“Corporations are persons within the meaning of the clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution concerning the deprivation of property, and concerning the equal protection of the laws.”

Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad Co.

“A revocation of the approval of the secretary of the interior [...] by his successor in office, was an attempt to deprive the plaintiff of its property without due process of law, and was, therefore, void.”

Dartmouth College v. Woodward

The Court ruled that the College’s corporate charter qualified as a contract between private parties, the King and the trustees, with which the legislature could not interfere.

XIV Amendment

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." –From the first of five clauses

Slaughterhouse Cases

In the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court ruled that a citizen's "privileges and immunities," as protected by the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment against the states, were limited to those spelled out in the Constitution and did not include many rights given by the individual states. Thus, a state may grant business monopolies to some of its citizens but not to others without running afoul of the Constitution. Slaughterhouse was the Court's first interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act

Outlawed political contributions by civil servants and empowered public employees to opt out of political activity without penalty.

Butcher's Union Co. v. Crescent City Co.

The Court ruled that the 25-year monopoly granted to Crescent City Co., and upheld in the Slaughterhouse Cases, was not the type of contract that could prevent the legislature from altering or abolishing it in the future. In his concurring opinion, Justice Field agreed "that the legislature cannot, by contract with an individual or corporation, restrain, diminish, or surrender its power to enact laws for the preservation of the public health or the protection of the public morals." But he and others on the Court also declared the original act of creating the Crescent City monopoly invalid (a reversal of the Slaughterhouse verdict).

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad

The headnote, a summary written for the official record after a case is decided, incorrectly stated that the Justices unanimously agreed that corporations were considered persons under the Fourteenth Amendment. Legal personhood got a foothold when the headnote was cited as precedent in the cases of Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania and Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway v. Beckwith.

Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania

“A private corporation is included under the designation of ‘person’ in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, section I.”

Lochner v. New York

The Court held that a freedom of contract, aka liberty of contract, was implicit in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This doctrine was the foundation of the "Lochner Era," which was named for this case but which actually began earlier with the decision in Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897). []

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