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The Senate just began debating a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United

Activists protest the Citizens United decision in front of the Lincoln Memorial
Activists protest the Citizens United decision in front of the Lincoln Memorial
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

On Monday, the Senate began a floor debate on whether to amend the US Constitution to allow more regulation of political spending. Though the procedural vote that will lead to debate was 79 to 18, that lopsided margin masks a dim future for the proposed amendment.

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.

Though the Senate will debate the measure over the next few days, the term "debate" is somewhat of a misnomer. Positions on campaign finance are already quite polarized, so what will ensue is mainly a series of canned speeches highly unlikely to change any minds. Nearly every Senate Democrat supports the measure — 50 out of 55 are sponsors or cosponsors — but not a single Senate Republican does. Since a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in favor from each house of Congress, this means it's already certain to go down to defeat in the Senate. Furthermore, the measure has no support among the GOP's House majority. If by some miracle the amendment was approved by both houses of Congress, 38 states would then need to ratify it to put it into effect.

The mere fact that Republicans allowed the measure to reach the floor — rather than filibustering the motion to proceed — shows that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't mind spending several days talking about it. At the very least, he'd rather talk about this than various other political proposals Majority Leader Harry Reid could spend several days of floor time on. Republicans have been harshly critical of the measure, and have emphasized that if it passes, it's the first time the Bill of Rights will ever have been amended. "Harry Reid rewrites the First Amendment," former Solicitor General Ted Olson wrote in an op-ed Sunday.

With the prospects for Congressional reform looking so grim, some activists have focused instead 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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