By Peter Schurman
America achieved an important milestone on Nov. 6. Alongside the other election results, our country has now come one-quarter of the way to amending our Constitution to overrule Citizens United, the widely reviled case that John McCain has branded the U.S. Supreme Court’s “worst decision ever.”
This is big news, because amending the U.S. Constitution is such a monumentally ambitious goal. Many reformers and critics of the Citizens United decision have expressed doubts that an amendment can be achieved.
But today, a growing national movement is proving that it is possible, and demonstrating our determination to get it done. We must, because unless the Supreme Court reverses itself, only a constitutional amendment can overrule it.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution says we can amend the Constitution by votes of two-thirds of each chamber of Congress, followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states. As of last Tuesday, we’re more than one-quarter of the way to hitting each of these numbers: 67 U.S. senators, 290 U.S. representatives and 10 states.
We are more than a quarter of the way there in the U.S. Senate, with 24 returning U.S. senators having introduced or co-sponsored amendments to overturn Citizens United. We are more than a quarter of the way there in the U.S. House, with 73 returning U.S. representatives having introduced or co-sponsored amendments, and another eight having made public commitments to support one. And, last week, we also crossed the one-quarter mark in terms of the necessary support from states. Voters in Montana and Colorado voted to make their states the 10th and 11th to formally call for an amendment.
Montana and Colorado are also, remarkably, the first states to endorse an amendment through statewide votes of the people. Seven of the other states — Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts and New Jersey — acted through their legislatures, which passed resolutions calling for an amendment; in two more, Connecticut and Maryland, majorities of the legislatures signed letters to Congress calling for an amendment.
The overwhelming margins of victory in Montana and Colorado are also exciting: both states’ voters took their stands in votes of nearly three to one.
These votes reflect an extraordinary level of public support for overruling Citizens United, which has also been found repeatedly in national polling: A 2010 Peter Hart poll found that 82 percent of Americans support congressional action to limit corporate spending on elections (which Citizens United unleashed), and that 79 percent support a constitutional amendment to accomplish this. This past September, an Associated Press poll found that 83 percent of Americans favor limits on the amount of money corporations, unions, and other organizations can spend on our elections.
Public support for an amendment is also resoundingly bipartisan. The 2010 Peter Hart poll revealed that 68 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of independents, and 87 percent of Democrats support an amendment. The 2012 AP poll showed that 81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents, and 85 percent of Democrats want to limit corporate, union, and other outside spending. The votes in Montana and Colorado also underscore this: Montana is a red state; Colorado is a swing state.
The growing national movement for an amendment is even more dramatically visible at the local level. More than 350 cities, towns, and counties, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia have called for an amendment, and more than 2,000 elected officials nationwide are on record supporting one.
The national movement for a constitutional amendment has made huge strides in less than three years since the Citizens United decision. And almost all of this progress occurred well before the peak of the recent election season.
Now that Americans have spent the past few months under an unprecedented barrage of distasteful advertising financed by nearly a billion dollars unleashed by that decision, it’s likely that our momentum will grow even stronger.
We the people are well on our way to taking back our democracy.
Peter Schurman is the campaign director at Free Speech for People, a national nonprofit organization seeking to overturn the Citizens United decision. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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