Unocal Fifteen Years Later (and What We Can Do About It)

Ronald J. Gilson, Columbia Law School


The coincidence of the new millennium and the fifteenth anniversary of the Delaware Supreme Court's announcement of a new approach to takeover law provides an appropriate occasion to step back and evaluate a remarkable experiment in corporate law - the Delaware Supreme Court's development of an intermediate standard for evaluating defensive tactics. I will argue that Unocal has developed into an unexplained and, I think, inexplicable preference that control contests be resolved through elections rather than market transactions. In doing so, I will highlight the remarkable struggle between the Chancery Court and the Supreme Court for Unocal's soul, a contest I will suggest the Supreme Court won only by fiat. I will also maintain that the current debate over shareholder-adopted bylaws that repeal or amend director-adopted poison pills provides a vehicle to reposition Delaware takeover law. Finally, I will end my retrospective on a note of praise. Intertwined with the development of Delaware takeover law is a reassessment and important expansion of the role of independent directors in corporate governance. There is no reason why this important development cannot be preserved if the Delaware Supreme Court chooses otherwise to restore balance to the law of takeovers.