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 Clements is co-founder and chair of the board of Free Speech for People, a national non-partisan campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, challenge excessive corporate power, and strengthen American democracy and republican self-government. He co-founded Free Speech For People in 2010, after representing several public interest organizations with a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Citizens United case. Jeff has served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. As Bureau Chief, he led more than 100 staff in the enforcement of environmental, healthcare, financial services, civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection laws. In private practice, Jeff has been a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, and in his own firm. Jeff also has served in leadership capacities on numerous boards, including that of the Portland Water District, a public agency responsible for protecting and delivering safe drinking water and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater for 160,000 people; Friends of Casco Bay, an environmental organization he co-founded with others to protect and enhance stewardship of Maine’s Casco Bay; and The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2012, Jeff co-founded Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides cost-effective capital to farmers and businesses engaged in local, sustainable agriculture. Jeff graduated with distinction in History and Government from Colby College in 1984, and magna cum laude from the Cornell Law School in 1988. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and three children. Jeff Clements Twitter: @ClementsJeff Email:
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