The Supreme Court’s Monday ruling to strike Montana’s ban on corporate campaign spending opens a new chapter in the political money wars, fueling an improbable but increasingly vocal movement to amend the Constitution.
“This Supreme Court ruling could be a watershed in terms of the court aligning itself with the interests of big corporations,” said Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state Senator and law professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. “And the constitutional amendment strategy will be a way to plant the flag and rally people for a different vision of the Constitution and the country.”
More than a dozen Members of Congress have proposed various constitutional amendments in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling to deregulate corporate and union political spending. Some declare that corporations are not people; others empower Congress and the states to restrict campaign spending and contributions.
Until now, such proposals have garnered little notice, given the slim likelihood that any could clear the high bar set for amending the Constitution: a two-thirds majority in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states.
But the court’s 5-4 ruling in the Montana case, known as American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, makes crystal clear that an amendment is needed, watchdogs say.
Monday’s ruling “underscores the need for a constitutional amendment since there’s no prospect of this court undoing the damage it’s done,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, which is helping lead a state and local campaign to pressure Congress to amend the Constitution. “And if we take seriously how consequential is that damage, then we need an amendment to remedy it.”
Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont and Rhode Island have already approved resolutions supporting constitutional amendments aimed at reversing Citizens United. Massachusetts and California are scheduled to vote on similar resolutions as early as Thursday.
More than 200 such measures have been enacted at the local level. A coalition of more than 60 progressive, labor and environmental groups has also mounted local protests and state ballot initiatives around calls for an amendment.
“It’s going to be very difficult for Congress to ignore that momentum in the states,” said John Bonifaz, executive director of Free Speech for People, which is helping lead the campaign. He noted that past Supreme Court rulings have been overturned via constitutional amendment in seven cases, including the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Conservatives reject such proposals out of hand.
The amendments on the table are patently unconstitutional and would rob civic groups, soccer leagues and churches of their basic right to associate and speak out, say scholars at the Center for Competitive Politics. Polls show that the segment of the public believing the First Amendment does not go too far reached a high of 79 percent last year, noted President David Keating, citing a 2011 survey by the First Amendment Center.
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