Federal corporate law: Lessons from history

Lucian A. Bebchuk, Assaf Hamdani

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This Essay analyzes the history of federal intervention in corporate law and draws from it lessons for the future. We show that federal intervention has generally not alternated between tightening state law restrictions on corporate insiders and relaxing them. Rather, federal law has systematically replaced state law arrangements with ones imposing tighter constraints on insiders. Without federal intervention, state law would have produced a corporate system that provides substantially weaker investor protection than the United States enjoys today. We also show that federal interventions have systematically taken advantage of additional tools (including public enforcement, criminal sanctions, gatekeeper liability, and agency-based regulations) beyond those that state law has chosen or been able to use. Overall, unless one views existing levels of investor protection as substantially excessive, past patterns suggest that state competition on its own is unlikely to produce an adequate level of investor protection. Furthermore, the recurring need for federal officials to rectify state law failures in order to provide investors with adequate protection indicates that federal lawmaking should be proactive rather than reactive. We thus recommend that, going forward, federal policy-makers examine in a systematic and comprehensive fashion which corporate law areas should be federalized either because tighter restrictions on insiders are needed or because the additional tools available to federal law would be useful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1793-1838
Number of pages46
JournalColumbia Law Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


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