Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) has introduced Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 1, a measure that begins the process to amend the United States Constitution to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Citizens United, a deeply divided Supreme Court held that corporations are due the same free-speech rights enjoyed by natural persons. The decision spawned “Super PACs,” which have flooded unlimited corporate money into federal elections, and has provided fodder for comedian Stephen Colbert and others who have lampooned the notion that “corporations are people too.”
AJR 1 features a rarely used process for amending the federal Constitution. Typically, amendments must start in Congress and then must be ratified by 3/4 of the states. AJR 1, however, takes advantage of a procedure, outlined in Article V of the Constitution, whereby states may demand that Congress act. If just 2/3 of the states make such a demand, Congress must call a constitutional convention on the topic. Several states and municipalities have passed informal resolutions condemning the Citizens United decision, but they have all been informal requests asking Congress to act. AJR 1, on the other hand, could eventually force Congress to act.
“I felt real action is essential now. Instead of issuing a resolution condemning the decision, why not start the process to actually amend the Constitution?” commented Assemblyman Gatto, “Voters are fed up with the notion that money is speech and that big money can drown out the speech of average citizens.”
Super PACs have been the source of much controversy since the Citizens United decision. Recent reports indicate that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson spent close to $150 million this election cycle alone, in an effort to defeat President Barack Obama and elect Republicans to Congress. Adelson contributed $15 million to the Super PAC “Winning Our Future” with the hopes of winning former House Speaker Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nomination, and after those efforts proved futile, he gave $20 million to “Restore Our Future,” the primary Super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s run at the White House.
“I doubt our Founding Fathers had corporations in mind when they drafted the First Amendment,” said Gatto. “But the Founding Fathers did anticipate that every once in a while, the states would need to prod Congress to act, to amend the Constitution.”
To pass in California, AJR 1 requires consideration and adoption by the State Assembly and Senate. Upon approval, a copy of the Resolution will be delivered to the presiding officers of several state legislatures for consideration and to federal officials. AJR 1 calls for a convention that would be limited to consider the Citizens United decision only. The state-initiated process has been tried before, and has fallen short of success by one or two states a few times, with the earliest being in 1893 and the most recent being 1939.
“The U.S. Constitution should be amended to invalidate the Citizens United decision, and with this, we initiate the national effort to do so,” said Gatto.