Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards turned to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis for guidance in framing the Constitutional amendment she proposed Tuesday as the right and necessary response to the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and a high court majority to abandon law and precedent with the purpose of permitting corporations to dominate the political discourse.
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both," said Brandeis, the lion of law whose defenses of freedom of speech and the right to privacy renewed and extended the American experiment in the 20th century.
Brandeis knew that giving corporations monopoly power over our economic life or our politics would be deadly to democracy.
Unfortunately, that truth is lost on the current Supreme Court’s activist majority.
Edwards is relying on Brandeis as an intellectual and legal touchstone as she launches the boldest congressional response yet to last month’s Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC.
"The ruling reached by the Roberts’ Court overturned decades of legal precedent by allowing corporations unfettered spending in our political campaigns. Another law will not rectify this disastrous decision," Edwards said Tuesday. "A Constitutional Amendment is necessary to undo what this Court has done. Justice Brandeis got it right: ‘We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’ It is time we remove corporate influence from our policies and our politics. We cannot allow corporations to dominate our elections, to do so would be both undemocratic and unfair to ordinary citizens."
Edwards explains the amendment in a powerful video where says: "You don’t amend the Constitution often, but the Supreme Court really has left us with no choice but to change the Constitution and make sure that people own our government and our elections — not the corporations."
Edwards does not stand alone. In addition to an array of public interest groups including Public Citizen, Voter Action, The Center for Corporate Policy and the American Independent Business Alliance, the congresswoman’s proposed amendment is being backed by House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is the dean of civil libertarians in Congress.
Conyers has signed on as an original co-sponsor of the amendment to address the court’s move to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
"The Supreme Court’s idea that corporate political speech is no different than an individual citizen’s political speech was not the law when the Constitution was written, was not the law before the Supreme Court’s decision two weeks ago, and should not be the law in the future," says Conyers. "I look forward to working further with Ms. Edwards and my other colleagues to use every tool at our disposal to make sure that elected representatives are accountable to voters, not corporations."
Here is the text of the legislation proposed by Edwards and Conyers:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification:
‘‘SECTION 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.
‘‘SECTION 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.”
Edwards and Conyers may soon have a Senate sponsor for their amendment proposal.
Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration that "we need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals."
At the same hearing, Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee declared: "As legislators, we have a duty to carefully consider the constitutional questions raised by legislation. But we are not mind readers, nor can we predict the future. So I urge you to do your duty but not be dissuaded from acting by fear of the Court. This terrible decision deserves as robust a response as possible. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake."