The Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United
This generation’s most important legislation misses the mark
In the coming days, you’ll hear more about legislation unveiled this week by New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall. It would give Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign contributions. A Constitutional Amendment to Reform Campaign Finance, is proposed as a remedy to the infamous Citizens United decision. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court awarded near unlimited political power to corporations.
Udall’s amendment won’t solve the problem
Sure, the legislation is an important step. It ought to be ratified. But Udall’s amendment is a narrow solution—just for the issue of campaign spending. The joint resolution—which is how constitutional amendments are filed—simply restores regulatory authority to congress and the states. (Ironically, this was an area where Arizona was a leader before its law was overturned by the same SCOTUS using the same odd logic.)
Yet it does nothing to address the most egregious aspect of Citizens United, something I call “creeping personhood.” Creeping personhood is the growing list of citizen rights and privileges accorded to non-human entities. One hundred years from now, this notion will either be considered laughable by historians or else corporations will have voting rights.
Here’s how it happened
In the original decision establishing corporate personhood, 1819’s Dartmouth vs. Woodward, corporations were granted rights to make and enforce contracts. In 1886, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad granted (by inference) equal protection to corporations. Both were reasonable responses to real issues of tort law. However the way each was decided opened the door to creeping personhood. Creep, creep…
Another SCOTUS decision, Buckley v. Valeo, had found that campaign donations are a form of speech. Creep, creep…
Then Citizens United granted personhood to corporations as regards “free speech” essentially giving them a First Amendment right. The Roberts Court, in a 5-4 decision, further said that free political speech is necessary for democracy, and that it was no less true if the speech comes from a corporation. Creep, creep…Continued on the next page