Congressman McGovern Introduces People’s Rights Amendment

Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts has introduced a Constitutional Amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives that would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the radical doctrine that corporations have Constitutional rights. You can read the text and sign on to support the People’s Rights Amendment here.

The 28th Amendment proposal introduced by Congressman McGovern has three related sections:

The first section confirms that Constitutional rights are the rights of natural persons, meaning human beings.

The second section states that when the words “person,” “people,” or “citizen,” are used in the Constitution refers to human beings, not corporations or other state-created entities. This section also confirms that corporations are subject to such regulation as the people through our representatives in Congress and the States deem reasonable, as consistent with the powers of the federal and state governments;

The third section makes clear that this 28th Amendment puts an end to “corporate rights” or “corporate personhood” under the Constitution, but does not take any rights away from human beings.

Citizens United created a new right of corporations to spend unlimited money in elections. The ruling struck down the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act effort to prevent corporate money from corrupting elections, and overturned at least two previous Supreme Court decisions that had ruled that corporations do not have the same rights as people and can be regulated to prevent their economic power from being improperly leveraged into political power. The People’s Rights Amendment reverses the Supreme Court’s decision and says that people, not corporations, have Constitutional rights.

The People’s Rights Amendment goes beyond Citizens United. It finally addresses the unconstitutional fabrication of “corporate rights” that has been used by large corporations to evade public interest laws in recent decades, and that were used in the last Gilded Age to block economic, labor and other public interest reform.

Citizens United expanded on a host of earlier “corporate speech” cases that had struck down law after law at the behest of corporations claiming that their money, spending or business plans were “speech” and that corporations have the same rights as people. This is how tobacco corporations struck down public health laws (Lorillard v. Reilly, e.g.); utility corporations struck down environmental and energy laws (Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Corporation); Monsanto and its industrial agri-corp allies struck down disclosure laws for artificial, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (Industrial Dairy Association v. Attorney General); how Wall Street listed corporations (using fronts such as the US Commerce  of Commerce) struck down financial regulations (Business Roundtable/Chamber of Commerce v. United States Securities & Exchange Commission, and many more.

The People’s Rights Amendment would reverse these rulings, and leave debate about the wisdom of corporate regulation to the legislatures.  Nearly 1000 business leaders have joined Free Speech for People and the American Sustainable Business Council in calling for the People’s Rights Amendment, and they have a Q and A that addresses some frequently asked questions about the Amendment here.

Other Constitutional Amendment resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate that would allow Congress and the States to regulate election spending and contributions of people and corporations. Details on the Amendment proposal of Senators Udall, Whitehouse, Merkley, Schumer, Durbin and others are here.

The campaign spending Amendments do not address the larger problem of the fabricated corporate rights theories that have invalidated laws beyond election spending, while the People’s Rights Amendment does address the admittedly serious problem that those with more money have more “speech” when it comes to political participation through election contributions and spending.

Perhaps we need both amendments. But one thing is very clear: corporations are not among “we the people” who own and preserve the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Congratulations and thanks to Rep. Jim McGovern on his leadership. Let’s encourage other members of Congress to join him in sponsoring the People’s Rights Amendment.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff serves as President of American Promise. He has practiced law for three decades in public service and private practice, and is the author of Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations. He is also the founder of Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides sustainable financing to businesses in the local agriculture economy. Previously, Jeff has been a partner in a major Boston law firm and served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the public law enforcement bureau in the Attorney General’s Office in Massachusetts. Jeff has helped to start and been a board member of many non-profit organizations and businesses. Today, in addition to the board of American Promise, he serves on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord, Massachusetts. Twitter: @ClementsJeff
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