As the Supreme Court returns today for its new term, a bipartisan group of law professors and prominent attorneys, including seven former state attorneys general, issued a letter criticizing the Court’s ruling in January in Citizens United v. FEC, which equated corporate spending in elections with free speech rights, and calling on Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
Free Speech for People and People For the American Way announced the release of the letter, which was signed by more than fifty leading law professors and attorneys, including former Massachusetts Attorneys General Frank Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger; former Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore; former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods; leading constitutional scholars; and numerous former federal and state prosecutors from across the country.
The diverse group of attorneys, scholars, and public servants call the Citizens United decision “a serious danger to effective self-government of, for and by the American people.” The signatories urge Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to address that danger, noting that “most of the seventeen amendments adopted since the original Bill of Rights have corrected what the American people understood were obstacles to the equal rights of all people to participate in self-government on equal terms.”
“As the mid-term elections near, it is becoming increasingly clear, according to widespread reports, that hundreds of millions of dollars and shadowy, anonymous front groups are dominating election spending and seeking to shape the outcome of not only the federal elections, but judicial and state elections as well,” said Scott Harshbarger, former Massachusetts Attorney General and former president of Common Cause.
Jeffrey D. Clements, General Counsel of Free Speech for People, which led the drafting and circulation of the letter, welcomed the leadership from those who joined it: “It is heartening to have the support of these leading scholars and public servants in calling for consideration of a constitutional amendment to restore government of the people, not government of the corporate checkbook. Americans across the political spectrum know that corporations are not people and that corporate treasuries do not equal ‘speech.’”
“One belief that Americans across the ideological spectrum share is a deep concern that corporations have too much influence over our political system, at the expense of individual Americans,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, “In Citizens United, the Supreme Court turned both the First Amendment and the principle of self-government, on their heads. The scholars and public servants who have signed this letter agree with the majority of Americans that elections belong in the hands of voters, not in the hands of the highest bidder.”
People For the American Way recently released a report, “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics” which documents the unprecedented sums of corporate money being injected into the 2010 elections. You can read the report here.
Several bills introducing constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United are under consideration in Congress, including the Edwards-Conyers bill in the House and the Baucus bill in the Senate. In addition, resolutions calling for an amendment to be sent to the states have been introduced in several state legislatures, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.
Free Speech For People, which was launched on January 21, 2010, when the US Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, is a national, non-partisan campaign to strengthen self-government and democracy in America. The campaign’s organizational partners include Voter Action, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, the Center for Corporate Policy, and the American Independent Business Alliance.
People For the American Way is a progressive non-profit dedicated to advancing freedom of speech, civil liberties, and equal justice under law.