Updated October 13, 2020:

Business constitutional rights are the rights of any companies formed in the United States, which are afforded by the United States Constitution. Some business entity types have almost as many rights as individual citizens of the country. The Constitution spells out the rights of U.S. citizens and the rights of the U.S. government. Business owners will benefit from an understanding of the rights their companies do and do not have.

How Does the Constitution Affect Businesses?

When reading the United States Constitution, most people are thinking of the rights of the people versus the government. However, there are many ways that these rights also affect businesses. The Bill of Rights lays out what rights the government cannot take away from citizens, and in many ways, these rights apply to companies that citizens own.

Ultimately, the courts decide exactly how the Constitution applies to businesses in the United States and even those operating as foreign entities here. However, there are many different opinions surrounding this issue.

Some of the specific aspects of the Constitution that affect businesses include:

  • The commerce clause.
  • The right to free speech.
  • The right to free association.
  • The regulation of Congress.
  • The rights of corporations.

Commerce Clause

The commerce clause in section eight of the first article of the United States Constitution states that Congress has the right to place regulations on international and state-to-state trade. This made trade regulations uniform throughout the states, allowing for simpler trade practices.

When a company conducts business in a different state or country than where it is registered, it becomes subject to the federal laws regulating foreign transactions. Foreign trade regulations are in place for companies that buy and sell goods outside the United States. State governments also have the right to enforce their own regulations on transactions that take place within their borders.

Free Speech

Free speech is a well-known and basic right covered in the Constitution's first amendment. Congress is not allowed to restrict this right, but it may be modified in certain ways to help to keep the public safe. Businesses in the United States also have rights when it comes to free speech.

Under the campaign finance reform, businesses were kept from donating to any political campaigns. Some viewed this restriction as an infringement on a business's right to free speech. A few years later, a majority of the Supreme Court agreed and decided to lift this restriction.

Free Association

Just as citizens are afforded the right to associate with certain beliefs or people groups, businesses are also allowed to make this choice. A business owner has a right to support different groups or religious beliefs by making information available to his or her customers through flyers, signs, and other means.

This does not necessarily apply in the case of hiring, however, a business must offer equal opportunity employment to anyone applying for a job with its company. It cannot discriminate based on religious beliefs, race, or otherwise.

The Regulation of Congress

The rules of the Constitution are meant to regulate Congress, not businesses or citizens. Therefore, the right to free speech means Congress cannot restrict someone from speaking his or her mind, but a business may be able to.

For example, a radio show has the right to not allow a certain person to speak on its program or to say certain things. Ultimately, such issues are decided by the Supreme Court, and there may be some exceptions, depending on the circumstances.

Rights of Corporations

Certain types of corporations have many of the same rights as United States citizens. Both corporations and citizens:

  • Pay taxes.
  • Have a right to sue and be sued.
  • Maintain certain other rights under the Constitution.

Corporate rights are a point of contention among different political parties.

For instance, the rights of corporations were called into question under President Obama's 2010 health care bill. This law required companies that employed 50 individuals or more to provide health insurance that included options for certain types of contraception for women. Women's rights to health care were put at odds with a corporation's right to religious freedom.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, a Christian corporation, the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation had the freedom to refuse to pay for certain types of contraception that were viewed as against the company's religious beliefs. Some believe this puts the rights of the corporation above the individual rights of its employees.

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