Legal personhood has become a contested issue for individuals of all political persuasions. Some activists seek to expand the boundaries of legal personhood to include fetuses, human tissue, or even animals. Other activists, however, have sought to limit the community of legal persons by expelling one long-recognized group: corporations. Since the United States Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, a variety of activists, artists, entertainers, and political commentators have claimed that corporate personhood should be severely limited or completely eliminated.This Article addresses the current controversy surrounding legal personhood by focusing on how legal personhood for corporations has been constructed by jurists and scholars in historical and contemporary contexts. This Article does so through an examination of the metaphorical use of the human body as an anchor for determining the status of corporations as legal persons. This analysis shows that even for corporations—disembodied, legally constructed entities lacking many of the rights and privileges of personhood—the human body serves as an important framework for shaping the legal community of persons and resolving theoretical disputes concerning those legal persons.
This Article also presents a novel theoretical justification of corporate personhood embedded in the legal tradition of the United States: the embodiment theory of the corporation. The embodiment theory of the corporation—deployed by courts, scholars, and lawyers—reveals how the embodied human being serves as the paradigmatic person of law. In the embodiment theory, human beings provide a model for determining how legal recognition functions for entities, collectives, and individuals—even those that are disembodied and legally constructed. For this reason, this Article argues that future efforts to determine the boundaries of legal personhood should incorporate human embodiment as a guiding framework for thinking about who “counts” in the community of persons.