Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has introduced a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would effectively render the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission moot.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned decades of legal precedent and has enabled billions in dark money to pour into our elections,” Schiff said in a press release. “Amending the Constitution is an extraordinary step, but it is the only way to safeguard our democratic process against the threat of unrestrained and anonymous spending by wealthy individuals and corporations. This amendment will restore power to everyday citizens.”
Even for Supreme Court rulings, few decisions cause as much controversy as this one. Citizens United was a nonprofit corporation that released a documentary in 2008 critical of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who was running for president in the Democratic primary at the time. The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether or not the corporation’s political action was legal.
The 2010 5-4 decision said that corporations and unions do have a constitutional right to support and donate to political candidates. While the Supreme Court’s ruling interpreted the Constitution as it was at the time, a new amendment specifically saying that this is not the case would render it ineffective.
While Citizens United primarily deals with corporations, it also affects union spending in elections. Unions spent $1.7 billion on the 2016 election cycle, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
The text of Schiff’s amendment reads:
“Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing reasonable content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent election expenditures. Nor shall this Constitution prevent Congress or the states from enacting systems of public campaign financing, including those designed to restrict the influence of private wealth by offsetting campaign spending or independent expenditures with increased public funding.”
For Schiff’s proposed amendment to become part of the U.S. Constitution, it would have to garner two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate and be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states (38 out of 50). Since Republicans control the Senate and Democrats only control 54 percent of the House, it is unlikely that this amendment would pass Congress, let alone earn enough support from the states to be ratified. The last constitutional amendment (Amendment 27, which dealt with compensation for senators and members of Congress) was ratified in 1992.