Democrats pick fight with Supreme Court

Seek amend­ment to counter rul­ing on cam­paign fi­nance

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

In what amounts to a dec­la­ra­tion of war on the Roberts Supreme Court, Se­nate Democrats said Wed­nes­day that they will force a vote this year on a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to over­turn sev­eral land­mark First Amend­ment cam­paign fi­nance rul­ings and give Congress ex­plicit pow­ers to set do­na­tion and spend­ing lim­its for all federal cam­paigns.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Demo­crat driv­ing the ef­fort, said the jus­tices have taken the First Amend­ment too far and need to be reeled in by Congress.

He said he had the bless­ing of fel­low Demo­cratic lead­ers to bring the amend­ment to the floor for a vote “rather soon.” They ac­knowl­edged that they have lit­tle hope of suc­ceed­ing but said the vote was a way to send a mes­sage to the jus­tices.

“The First Amend­ment is not ab­so­lute,” Mr. Schumer said. “The only way that we can save Amer­i­can democ­racy, so that people still be­lieve it’s one per­son, one vote and there’s a sem­blance of fair­ness, is a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.”

The move kicks off a fun­da­men­tal de­bate over free speech, the lim­its of con­gres­sional pow­ers and the na­ture of po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

Op­po­nents said they were shocked that Democrats would at­tempt to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion to limit some­thing that the Supreme Court has called a fun­da­men­tal right and that the move was an­other way to try to in­su­late law­mak­ers from hav­ing to hear from vot­ers.

“Cam­paign fi­nance re­form re­stric­tions are al­ways pitched as ‘Let’s pre­vent cor­rup­tion, let’s hold politi­cians ac­count­able,’ and they do ex­actly the op­po­site,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can. “Ev­ery sin­gle re­stric­tion this body puts in place is de­signed to do one thing — pro­tect in­cum­bent politi­cians.”

Cam­paign fi­nance has been a touchy is­sue for decades but has taken on a more pointed tone in re­cent years.

In his 2010 State of the Union ad­dress, Pres­i­dent Obama scolded the jus­tices, sit­ting di­rectly in front of him in the House cham­ber, for their Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion is­sued just days ear­lier.

In that case, a di­vided Supreme Court

“The First Amend­ment is not ab­so­lute. The only way that we can save Amer­i­can democ­racy, so that people still be­lieve it’s one per­son, one vote and there’s a sem­blance of fair­ness, is a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.” — Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Demo­crat driv­ing the ef­fort force a vote this year on a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to over­turn sev­eral land­mark First Amend­ment cam­paign fi­nance rul­ings and give Congress ex­plicit pow­ers to set do­na­tion and spend­ing lim­its for all federal cam­paigns

ruled that in­ter­est groups could raise and spend money freely to run ads de­fend­ing their po­si­tions in elec­tions. That struck down key parts of the cam­paign fi­nance laws Congress en­acted, in­clud­ing parts of the 2002 McCain-Fein­gold cam­paign fi­nance law.

Democrats ar­gue that the court has un­leashed a spree of big-spend­ing bil­lion­aires in­tent on dis­tort­ing democ­racy. On Wed­nes­day, they again sin­gled out the Koch broth­ers, who sup­port con­ser­va­tive causes.

But the Supreme Court has ruled that cam­paign spend­ing is free speech and thus en­ti­tled to strong First Amend­ment pro­tec­tions, par­tic­u­larly in cases in which mem­bers of Congress dis­agree with what is be­ing said.

“Money in pol­i­tics may at times seem re­pug­nant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amend­ment vig­or­ously pro­tects,” Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his ma­jor­ity opin­ion in this year’s McCutcheon v. FEC case. “If the First Amend­ment pro­tects flag burn­ing, fu­neral protests, and Nazi pa­rades — de­spite the pro­found of­fense such spec­ta­cles cause — it surely pro­tects po­lit­i­cal cam­paign speech de­spite pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion.”

One of Chief Jus­tice Roberts’ for­mer col­leagues, re­tired Jus­tice John Paul Stevens, tes­ti­fied to the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day that the court has it wrong. He said that when elec­tions are at stake, Congress should be al­lowed to im­pose a level play­ing field for all can­di­dates.

“While money is used to fi­nance speech, money is not speech,” he told the Se­nate Rules and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee.

Democrats’ amend­ment, spon­sored by Sen. Tom Udall, New Mex­ico Demo­crat, would over­turn the land­mark 1976 Buck­ley v. Va­leo case that set the out­lines of mod­ern cam­paign fi­nance ju­rispru­dence, as well as the Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion and the McCutcheon rul­ing from just a few weeks ago that over­turned lim­its that pre­vented in­di­vid­u­als from giv­ing to as many cam­paigns as they want.

The amend­ment would give Congress ex­plicit pow­ers to put a to­tal limit on how much cam­paigns could raise or spend, and how much out­siders could spend to sup­port or op­pose federal can­di­dates. It also would al­low states to im­pose their own re­stric­tions.

Mr. Udall’s amend­ment specif­i­cally says it wouldn’t in­fringe on free­dom of the press.

But Mr. Cruz said that raised all sorts of thorny ques­tions.

“Why does a cor­po­ra­tion like The New York Times or CBS or any other me­dia cor­po­ra­tion … en­joy greater First Amend­ment rights than in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens?” Mr. Cruz said.

Amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion is dif­fi­cult. It would take ap­proval by twothirds of each house of Congress — some­thing that is un­likely in ei­ther cham­ber right now — and then would have to be rat­i­fied by three-fourths of the states.

In the wake of the Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion, Democrats tried but failed to get leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing more dis­clo­sure through Congress. Those changes would have re­quired only a ma­jor­ity vote, so the chances are dim for more pow­er­ful changes en­vi­sioned in the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

The last amend­ment that was rat­i­fied was more than 40 years ago, when the 26th Amend­ment granted those 18 and older the right to vote.

A 27th Amend­ment, restrict­ing Congress’ abil­ity to change its own salary, was rat­i­fied in 1992, but it was pro­posed as part of the orig­i­nal pack­age in 1789 that be­came the Bill of Rights.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

“Cam­paign fi­nance re­form re­stric­tions are al­ways pitched as ‘Let’s pre­vent cor­rup­tion, let’s hold politi­cians ac­count­able,’ and they do ex­actly the op­po­site. Ev­ery sin­gle re­stric­tion

this body puts in place is de­signed to do one thing — pro­tect in­cum­bent politi­cians.”

— Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.