The U.S. Constitution has been the supreme law of the land for over 230 years. It protects the rights of individuals, but many people do not know that it protects the rights of businesses as well. The Constitution is called a "living document" because its writers most likely intended future Americans to adapt it over time. It is one of the oldest constitutions still in use. Amendments—changes to the original document—have become a critical component of the Constitution. Some amendments have received more scrutiny and review than others because of the nature of their protections, their effects on individual and corporate rights, or their impact on the relationship between federal and state governments. Four of the most important amendments in terms of business law are the 1st, which protects freedom of speech; the 4th, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure; the 5th, which focuses on due process of law; and the 14th, which focuses on equal protection under the law.
At A Glance
The 1st Amendment to the Constitution relates to freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. Businesses are entitled to certain constitutional protections of speech, but businesses have less protection in this area than individuals do.
- Under the 4th Amendment, businesses are entitled to certain constitutional protections from unreasonable search and seizure. This protection gives a certain amount of privacy against governmental intrusion, but it does not protect against all searches and seizures.
The 5th Amendment protects people from being witnesses against themselves in criminal cases. While corporations are persons under the law, the 5th Amendment's protection against self-incrimination does not apply to them.
- Businesses must be aware that the 14th Amendment entitles all individuals to equal protection under the law. There are three levels of scrutiny to determine whether a law is discriminatory.