Commentary: Overturning Citizens United ruling is the right thing to do

By Judith A. Butler

The Delaware General Assembly is preparing to vote on SCR 72, a resolution that calls on the U.S. Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and send it to the states for ratification. The amendment would reverse the Supreme Court’s disastrous, 5-4 Citizens United vs FEC (2010) decision that opened the floodgates to Big Money in our elections.

Our campaign finance system is deeply flawed. Where we once had a representative democracy that promoted the common good, we now have an oligarchy where congressional representatives do the bidding of the Big Money special interests that fund their political campaigns and spend billions of dollars each year on K Street lobbyists.

How did we get here? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Citizens United and related cases that corporations and other artificial entities have the same rights as individual citizens, and that the spending of money in political campaigns is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

A campaign finance system that was already flawed before Citizens United suddenly got much worse. According to John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity, this ruling “…gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.”

We citizens are waking up to the dangers posed by this corrupt system. Polling indicates that 75% of us – crossing party lines – are calling for an amendment that would reverse Citizens United.

Twenty states and more than 800 local governments have formally petitioned Congress to propose an amendment that would reverse Citizens United and restore our representative democracy.

When the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution doesn’t reflect our values, the only recourse is to amend the Constitution. Seven times in our history, we have amended the Constitution to overturn misguided Supreme Court rulings. Two of the most notable of these were the 14th Amendment, which recognized the citizenship of African Americans, and the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Article V of the Constitution provides that an amendment can be proposed by the Congress with a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by an Article V convention called for by two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures. Once an amendment is approved by either of these means, it must be ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states to become part of the Constitution.

Amending the Constitution is a heavy lift, to be sure, but we Americans fought for and ratified 12 amendments in the 20th century. In each case, there was strong public sentiment that was recognized and acted on by the people’s representatives in Congress and in state legislatures. It is critical, therefore, that we citizens elect candidates who truly reflect the will of the people and reject being compromised by the Big Money influence of the donor class.

A constitutional amendment could restore our democracy by guaranteeing that people, not money, govern the United States.

Judith A. Butler, of Wilmington, is a retired nurse and pharmacologist and a leader in the pro-democracy organization American Promise Delaware.