By Suzanne Merkelson *
"The Declaration for Democracy" presented at the congressional summit signed by lawmakers and activists. Photo courtesy of People for the American Way
On Wednesday, a group of members of Congress, local and state lawmakers, and activist groups met in a Capitol Visitor Center hearing room to do something unusual for its loftiness: they announced and signed a "declaration for democracy," pledging their support to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), himself the author of such an amendment, was one of the first lawmakers to speak:
"The U.S. Constitution has served us very well, but when the Supreme Court says, for purposes of the First Amendment, that corporations are people, that writing checks from the company's bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by constitutional amendment."
Sanders was joined by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Udall (D-NM), as well as Democratic Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Rush Holt (N.J.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Betty Sutton (Ohio), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Peter Welch (Vt.), and David Cicilline (R.I.). Many have introduced constitutional amendments of their own; all signed on to the declaration and expressed their support for the movement.
Each member echoed Sanders, especially focusing on the momentum building across the country for such an amendment. Hawaii, New Mexico, and this week, Vermont, have all passed resolutions in their state legislatures calling on Congress to overturn Citizens United. They're joined by over 147 cities nationwide that have passed resolutions. The summit highlighted the Resolutions Week initiative spearheaded by Public Citizen and other organizations, aimed at passing local resolutions the week of June 11.
"We have developing here a grassroots movement," Udall said.
The speakers had nothing but vitriol for Citizens United, which Schumer derided as the "worst [Supreme Court] decision since Plessy v. Ferguson," which was the 1896 ruling that supported "separate but equal" racial segregation.
The members noted that passing this 28th amendment requires commitment from citizens and activist groups:
"With this vehicle, we are going to organize America and all Americans are central to that success," said Ellison. "We need people to take personal responsibility...this has to be a mass action."
The members of Congress were followed by speakers representing activist groups including Public Citizen, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way, and the Center for Media and Democracy, as well as activists and local legislators from Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, and Vermont.
* Suzanne Merkelson is the Associate Web Editor for United Republic, where she curates and comments on the day's top money-in-politics news. She previously produced web content for Foreign Policy magazine and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic, among others.