Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Senate committee just approved a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United

Visions of America, Universal Images Group

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution to amend the US Constitution to allow greater regulation of political spending, on a 10-8 party line vote. This clears the way for a vote by the full Senate later this year.

The proposal, sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), is intended to reverse recent Supreme Court rulings that have deregulated the campaign finance system, such as Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC. It states that both Congress and the states would "have power to regulate the raising and spending of money" on elections. Specifically, it would allow limits on outside spending in support of candidates, which the Court has struck down. You can read the amendment's full text here.

Republicans on the committee were harshly critical of the measure, and emphasized that it was the first time the Bill of Rights would ever have been amended. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) called the proposal "surreal and hysteric," and Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it "a proposal that would allow Congress to ban books, to ban movies, and to ban the NAACP."

But Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) scoffed at his analysis, saying, "Since we banned child pornography — which I imagine my colleagues support — a limitation on the First Amendment, has free speech been hampered in any way? Absolutely not." And he said the measure would limit spending from both liberal and conservative funders: "The Soroses and the Steyers will be just as banned as the Kochs and the others. And they should be."

It's the first constitutional amendment approved by a Senate committee in recent years. In 2004, when Republicans controlled the chamber, they pushed a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage nationwide — but could not win committee approval for it, and sent it directly to the Senate floor instead (where it fell far short of passage).

But the amendment's prospects look dim. If every Senate Democrat supports the amendment — so far, 8 haven't signed on — it would still need 12 GOP votes to reach the 67 needed for passage. And so far, Republicans have been unanimously opposed. Furthermore, the measure has no support in the House. The approval of both chambers is needed to send the proposal to the states. 38 states would then need to ratify it to put it into effect.

So instead, some activists have focused on amending the Constitution through another route — by getting state legislatures to call for a Constitutional convention. Two legislatures have done this so far. For more information about how this process works, click here.

Vox's interview with Professor Lawrence Lessig

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