No Republicans on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee attended the
hearing, which heard testimony from lawmakers opposed to the Supreme
Court's Citizens United ruling and constitutional scholars.
It will take a constitutional amendment to reverse the flood of
independent money inundating American elections in the aftermath of
the US Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, a
Senate Judiciary subcommittee was told on Tuesday.
New laws alone will not be enough to counter the impact of the
2010 high court decision establishing that corporations have a First
Amendment right to make independent political expenditures during
election season, witnesses told the panel.
The hearing of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the
Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights arises in a
particularly heated election season in which new political spending
enabled by Citizens United has played a prominent role. The hearing
was chaired by Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois and was entirely
a production of Democratic members of the Senate.
"I believe, as you believe, that the solution here is a
constitutional amendment to restore the power to the hands of the
people, not the corporations," said Senator Max Baucus (D) of
Montana, one of the witnesses.
"My proposal would right the wrong of Citizens United - simply
overturn it - and give back to the people, like those in Montana,
the ability to once again say we are not for sale," he said.
A campaign to amend the Constitution is already underway with
nearly 1.9 million signatures, supportive resolutions from 275
cities and towns, and the backing of state legislatures in
California, Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, and Rhode Island.
Senator Durbin compared the campaign finance issue to other
historic national problems that required constitutional amendments
to resolve, such as ending slavery, extending the vote to women, and
invalidating poll taxes.
"I have reached the conclusion that a constitutional amendment is
necessary," Senator Durbin said. "It is an uphill battle. It may
The hearing came a week after a campaign spending disclosure law -
the DISCLOSE Act - was bottled up in the US Senate by Republican
opposition. It also comes amid what is expected to be the most
expensive presidential election season in history - including
massive spending by so-called super PACs.
The Citizens United decision and a related federal appeals court
ruling five months later set the stage for the current proliferation
of organizations seeking to influence the outcome of national
elections while working independently of candidates and their
By remaining independent they are protected by the First
Amendment from federal campaign finance restrictions, under the
President Obama and other Democrats have denounced the Citizens
United decision as a setback for American democracy by empowering
wealthy corporations at the expense of ordinary voters.
Republicans have defended the decision on free speech grounds.
Not a single Republican committee member made an appearance at
The hearing featured Senator Baucus and three other Democratic
lawmakers who have introduced measures designed to undercut or
completely overturn Citizens United.
The committee also heard testimony from two constitutional law
scholars, Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute in
Washington, and Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School.
Mr. Shapiro was the only individual at the hearing who sought to
defend the Citizens United decision. He called it one of the most
misunderstood high court decisions ever.
"It doesn't stand for half of what many people say it does," he