Constitutional Amendments Come In Waves- What Will Ours Bring?

AmendI have a piece in US News & World Report about the indispensable Constitutional amendment power through American history, and why we’re due for another round.

Article V of the Constitution provides the Amendment mechanism. It is not easy: Approval by 2/3 of Congress (or an unprecedented Constitutional Convention) and ratification by 3/4 of the States. Not easy, yet our national pattern of Constitutional amendment “waves” in times of economic, cultural, political, social and even global shifts is striking. When our politics and society hit particularly difficult stress points, we see not just one Constitutional amendment clear the Article V hurdle, but several at once.

The signs are everywhere that we are in one of those times again. In an American tradition that is not required by Article V, over the past three years, huge cross-partisan majorities in more than 600 cities and towns and sixteen states have enacted 28th Amendment resolutions overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. These resolutions call for Constitutional amendments that will restore the right of the people to decide how best to limit political and campaign spending, and to preserve Constitutional rights for human beings, not corporations.

Here are the top candidates for such a 28th (and 29th?) Amendment:

The Democracy For All Amendment was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, and has 48 sponsors in the Senate, and more than 100 in the House. It would reverse Citizens United and related campaign finance cases by affirming the right of the people through the States and Congress to protect the political equality of all citizens and the integrity of elections and government by regulating contributions and spending in elections, whether by corporations, unions or individuals.

The People’s Rights Amendment would reverse the holding in Citizens United and related cases that empowered corporations with the Constitutional rights of human beings, restoring the right of the people through the States and Congress to decide how best to define and regulate corporate entities that are created by the states, the federal government or foreign governments. The People’s Rights Amendment has been introduced in the Senate and the House, and has a growing number of co-sponsors.

The We the People Amendment reverses Citizens United and combines the elements of the above two amendments. It affirms that Constitutional rights are inherent rights of natural persons, not corporate entities, and the the right of the people through the states and Congress to regulate campaign contributions and spending.

Other Constitutional amendment ideas beyond the problem of the domination of government by unbalanced concentrations of money and corporate interests are finding support as well:

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has proposed his own wave of Amendments ;

Mark Levin, a former Reagan Justice Department official and head of the Landmark Legal Foundation, has proposed a wave of what he calls  the Liberty Amendments;

The Center for Voting and Democracy advocates for a Right to Vote Amendment that would explicitly guarantee the right of all Americans to vote;

The growing national debt has renewed interest in a Balanced Budget Amendment, and the Equal Rights Amendment that fell three states short of ratification is still on the table.

No doubt there are more. Of course, not all of these Amendments will win the national consensus it takes to meet the appropriately high bar of Article V. But if our history is any guide, and if Americans still have what it takes for self-government (as I believe we do), it is a good bet that one, and likely more, of these will form the Amendment “wave” that renews our path toward democracy and liberty for all in our time.

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: jclements@freespeechforpeople.org
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