Hayden & Bodie on Business Roundtable v. SEC

Grant M. Hayden (Hofstra University, Maurice A. Deane School of Law) and Matthew T. Bodie (Saint Louis University School of Law) have posted The Bizarre Law & Economics of ‘Business Roundtable v. SEC, 38 J. Corp. L. (forthcoming 2012), on SSRN. From the abstract:

For over seventy years, the Securities & Exchange Commission has considered various means of wresting exclusive control of the proxy ballot from corporate boards. In 2010, pursuant to direct Congressional authorization, the agency finally succeeded, enacting Rule 14a-11. The rule should have given shareholders access to a corporation’s proxy ballot for director nominations, thereby reducing the costs for shareholders and diminishing the longstanding barriers to a more robust corporate democracy. But within a year of the rule’s enactment, and to the surprise of almost every observer, the D.C. Circuit struck down the rule in Business Roundtable v. SEC as an arbitrary and capricious exercise of agency power.

The court’s ruling relies upon perceived failings in the Commission’s economic analysis. But it is the court’s economic analysis that is open to scrutiny and criticism. Over the past few decades, corporate law and economics scholarship has become adept at containing and eliding certain contradictions of its basic principles. The reasoning in Business Roundtable represents a facile reflection of these principles — a reflection that thereby magnifies the underlying flaws. As a result, the D.C. Circuit’s decision to strike down Rule 14a-11 rests on a false version of shareholder democracy, one that undermines the very market principles that it purports to advance. It ignores the benefits of true shareholder democracy and focuses instead on costs that are routine for any functioning electoral system.

By drawing distorted conclusions from certain tropes of corporate law and economics scholarship, the court essentially codified a strange new set of requirements for administrative agencies like the Commission. We fear that, unless it is corrected over time, this bad law and economics will cow regulatory agencies, particularly the SEC, into adhering to a crabbed and inchoate vision of corporate governance. And we hope that substantive criticism of the opinion, such as that represented in this article, will demonstrate that the court’s errors need not be replicated by others.

(H/T: Securities Law Prof Blog)

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