Skip to main content

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886)

  • Author:
  • Updated:

A complicated tax case stemming from a California law that stated railroads could not deduct the value of their mortgages from the taxable value of their property, a right that was given to individuals. The Southern Pacific Railroad refused to pay the tax revenues involved, several California counties sued, and the case eventually wound its way to the Supreme Court. Although the court did not specifically rule on corporate personhood, a court clerk, who wrote a summary of the case for the legal community, stated that the ruling in favor of the railroad meant that the 14th Amendment — which forbids a state to deny equal protection to any person — also applied to corporations. This comment, almost a footnote, eventually took on the status of settled law. And as if corporations didn't have enough clout already, this only served to increase, and further legitimize, their power.