Assemblyman Michael Allen (D-Sonoma County), Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), and Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) have introduced Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 32, a measure that begins the process to amend the United States Constitution to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
In Citizens United, a deeply divided Supreme Court held that corporations are due the same free-speech rights enjoyed by natural persons. The decision spawned “Super PACs,” which have flooded unlimited corporate money into federal elections, and has provided fodder for comedians and others who disagree with the notion that “corporations are people too.”
AJR 32 features a rarely used process for amending the federal Constitution. Typically, amendments must start in Congress and then must be ratified by the states. Amendments must pass Congress by a two-thirds vote then be ratified by three-fourths of the states. AJR 32 however takes advantage of a procedure, outlined in Article V of the Constitution, whereby the states may demand that Congress act. If just two-thirds of the states make such a demand, Congress must call a constitutional convention on the topic. Several state and municipal legislatures have passed informal resolutions condemning the Citizens United decision.
“I figured rather than just condemning the decision with a symbolic resolution, why not start the process to actually amend the Constitution?” said Assemblyman Gatto. “Voters are fed up with the notion that money is speech and that big money can drown out the speech of average citizens.”
“I doubt our Founding Fathers had corporations in mind when they drafted the First Amendment, which makes the Citizens United decision troubling,” said Assemblyman Allen. “They would have scoffed at the notion that a corporation is entitled to the same rights as a natural person. We must act now to amend the U.S. Constitution to make this important distinction.”
“The U.S. Constitution should be amended to invalidate the Citizens United decision, and I am proud to help initiate the national effort to do so,” commented Wieckowski. “This process empowers the people to address constitutional issues that Congress is either unwilling or unable to address.”
To pass in California, AJR 32 requires consideration and adoption by the State Assembly and Senate. Upon approval, a copy of the Resolution will be delivered to the presiding officers of several state legislatures for consideration and to federal officials.
AJR 32 calls for a convention that would be limited to consider the Citizens United decision. The state-initiated process has been tried before, and has fallen short of success by one or two states a few times, with the earliest being in 1893 and the most recent being 1939.