Our Democracy Honors Fellow, Jasmine Gomez published an op-ed today to Common Dreams, on “Citizens United, the First Amendment, and the Ballot.” In Jasmine’s latest piece, she rebuts the critics of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and reminds us all of our democracy’s aim for “political equality” — that is before the Court’s Buckley v. Valeo ruling.  Jasmine writes,

“In Buckley, the Supreme Court decided—for the first time—that spending money on politics merits the same First Amendment protections as actual “speech.” Once Buckley held that money was protected like speech, restrictions limiting money in politics were judicially prohibited unless they prevented corruption.

None of this needed to happen. The Supreme Court did not have to interpret the Constitution in a way that granted money the same protections as speech. Before the Supreme Court decided Buckley, the case was heard by an influential federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C.. Unlike the Supreme Court, that court of appeals saw limits on political spending as limits on conduct, not speech. The D.C. court of appeals also understood that political equality (having an equal voice at all levels of democracy) was a fundamental right that itself should be protected. The court spoke to the very nature of what many Americans are questioning right now, writing:

“It would be strange indeed if, by extrapolation outward from the basic rights of individuals, the wealthy few could claim a constitutional guarantee to a stronger political voice than the unwealthy many because they are able to give and spend more money, and because the amounts they give and spend cannot be limited.”

Until Buckley was appealed to the Supreme Court and overturned, the law of the land was that limits on money in politics did not receive the same constitutional scrutiny as limits on speech, and political equality was a legitimate public goal. Since Buckley was overturned, the law for money in politics has gotten worse. In recent years, the Supreme Court has become the most pro-business Court since the 1940s, and is largely disconnected from the realities most people experience.

Despite the Court’s rulings in Buckley and Citizens United, the people are still fighting to prevail and to make their voices speak louder than money.

 Already, 17 states have passed resolutions calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related decisions such as Buckley. Critics argue that amending the Constitution to overturn these cases would “break the Constitution” or “be a disaster for free speech.” However, this rhetoric defies our lived experience. Was 2009, the year before Citizens United was decided, an era of tyranny? Was the America of the early 1970s, in the years when political equality was ascendant and the Supreme Court had not yet decided Buckley v. Valeo, a repressive state with no freedom of speech? Did the federal court of appeals’ observation about wealth and political inequality completely misunderstand the Constitution?

Whether we win this fight for political equality with a new jurisprudence or a Constitutional amendment, we know that this is a cause worth fighting for and a battle we will win. Using our vote as our voice, will enable us to “restore the Constitution to allow the public to debate and decide how best to limit the influence of money in our political system is a necessary first step.”

Read Jasmine’s full article on Common Dreams.