Boards and shareholders are increasingly using charter and bylaw provisions to customize their corporate governance. Recent examples include forum selection bylaws, majority voting bylaws and advance notice bylaws. Relying on the contractual conception of the corporation, Delaware courts have accorded substantial deference to board-adopted bylaw provisions, even those that limit shareholder rights.
This Article challenges the rationale for deference under the contractual approach. With respect to corporate bylaws, the Article demonstrates that shareholder power to adopt and amend the bylaws is, under Delaware law, more limited than the board’s power to do so. As a result, shareholders cannot effectively constrain the board’s adoption of bylaws with which they disagree. The resulting power imbalance offers reasons to question the scope of the contract paradigm.
This analysis has two implications. First, it suggests that the Delaware courts and possibly the legislature may want to re-consider existing constraints on shareholder power in order to realize the contractual paradigm fully. In so doing, they will have to consider the normative implications of greater shareholder empowerment. Second, to the extent that Delaware law retains the existing limitations on shareholder power, this analysis suggests that courts should scrutinize board-adopted bylaws more closely.