by Bob Massie, Democratic Candidate for the United States Senate
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These 45 simple words are the bedrock of our free society. They have not changed since the Bill of Rights’ ratification in 1793. In the past year, however, they have suffered a series of perverse interpretations by the Roberts Court that threaten to dismantle our democracy, brick by brick.
Just last week, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down an Arizona law that grants more money to publicly funded candidates who run against privately funded candidates with deeper pockets. It is the fifth campaign finance decision by the Roberts Court that benefits the powerful over the people.
Citizens United undid more than a century of campaign finance law, equating corporations as people worthy of free speech under the First Amendment. Under this latest decision over Arizona law, the Supreme Court is also telling us more money permits more speech.
Read those 45 words again. After 218 years, how did we get here? For the first time in our nation’s history, the principle of “one person, one vote” is under serious threat. The “people” our Founders sought to protect have been drowned out of our public debate not by the power of their fellow citizens’ voices, but by bodiless entities with more money, connections, and access to power.
It is only in this perverse world where the interests of a tiny, well-funded group of polluters can prevail over the clean air needs of our communities. Where drug makers pursue profit over our health. And where mines choose output over the safety of its workers.
I could list one by one all the critical issues that face us. They include ending tax breaks for corporations that don’t need them, providing health care for people who don’t have it, and making ground-breaking investments in energy and in our economy that, unless we act as a nation, won’t take place. The simple reason each of them remains unresolved is the corruption of government by money.
Some states have tried to address this problem. Congress has taken a few tentative steps. But the Supreme Court of the United States is systematically sweeping away these reforms with the strange argument that they attack the principles on which the country was founded. In fact, the opposite is true: with these decisions expanding the power of corporations the Court is slashing away at the core idea that we have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
It would be bad enough if the Supreme Court had ruled unanimously on these fundamental questions. What makes it far worse is that these rulings – sweeping away a century of prior jurisprudence – were each decided by 5-4 votes. The Bush legacy, having wrecked the economy by favoring the wealthy, is now likely to wreck our democracy by doing the same.
The Founders, having presided over the Constitutional Convention and the drafting of the Bill of Rights, would neither recognize nor endorse the novel legal and political theories introduced by Clarence Thomas, Anton Scalia, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. The founders believed in democracy and equality — two principles now in jeopardy. This is why as senator I will call for a new constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. I will work tirelessly to undo the perverse interpretations of this court and to restore the original intent of the constitution by returning power to the people of the United States.
We must unite as citizens to reverse Citizens United. Through a constitutional amendment, we would permit a new and fundamental conversation over the role of money and power. This debate is long overdue. Let us do this openly so that we are no longer damaged by secret decisions that are guided by corporate dollars and reached behind closed doors.