Senate panel to examine overturning Citizens United ruling in July

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, May 10, 2012 19:48 EDT
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Sen Patrick Leahy via YouTube screenshot
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The Senate Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on constitutional amendments aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision on July 17, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced on Thursday.

“The devastating effects of the Court’s divisive decision in Citizens United are already being felt in states and communities across the country,” said Leahy. “Since the decision was handed down, Democrats in Congress have been working to protect the voices of millions of American voters. Regrettably, we have not seen the bipartisan cooperation needed in Congress to move forward with even debating these proposals. This hearing will explore and evaluate a number of constitutional amendment proposals that have been introduced.”

The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that limiting corporate campaign spending violated the First Amendment, because political contributions were a form of political speech and corporations were legally persons.

“Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy — it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people — political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

Citizens United struck down key provisions of the federal McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law and gave rise to Super PACS, which can raise an unlimited amount of money to influence federal elections as long as they do not directly coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. The ruling allowed campaign spending by outside groups to skyrocket.

More than 200 local government resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment have passed nationwide and another 80 resolution efforts are under way, according to the group Public Citizen. More than 100 members of Congress have backed a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling as well.

“Amending the Constitution is a step that should not be taken lightly, and the process is laborious and lengthy,” Leahy said.

A number of constitutional amendments have been introduced to Congress this year that target the controversial ruling, but they have little chance of succeeding.

After first being considered by the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee panel, the amendments would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. However, the proposed amendments have almost no support from Republicans.

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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