Retired Montana Supreme Court Justice and Free Speech For People Board Member, James C. Nelson shared a guest post to the American Constitution Society’s law blog  on the sixth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election CommissionJustice Nelson writes of the effects of the ruling and calls on readers to join an organization committed to overturning the decision.

The original article, in full, is available on the American Constitution Society Blog. 

On Money As Speech

Also recall that under Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 case decided before Citizens United­­, the U.S. Supreme Court held that money is a form of and counts as speech. The Court stated that: “A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.” And, “[T]he electorate’s increasing dependence on television, radio, and other mass media for news and information has made these expensive modes of communication indispensable instruments of effective political speech.”

The consequence of this is obvious: The more money one can spend, the more speech one can buy and, thus, has. In other words, money equals speech. Partisan, corporate and special interests can expend mega dollars to elect a favored candidate or to defeat a candidate who will not support the expender’s agenda. Ordinary citizens have no such ability.

In truth, the ordinary voter’s $50 contribution or letter to the editor doesn’t mean much in the face of a multi-million dollar slick ad campaign. In reality, the speech and voice of the ordinary citizen is drowned out by the quantity of speech orchestrated in the national and local media by the mega-money speakers.

On “Beating Citizens United” 

This generation of Americans is moving to do the same thing right now. The People are working to enact the 28th Amendment to undo the effects of Citizens United and to restore constitutional rights and guarantees to their rightful owners: We the People. Some 700 cities and towns in every region of the country have enacted resolutions favoring this amendment. Sixteen states have enacted 28th Amendment resolutions—proudly, my state of Montana is one of them. One hundred forty-two House members are co-sponsoring the 28th Amendment, and 54 senators voted for the 28th Amendment after it cleared the Judiciary Committee in 2014. Grassroots organizations are springing up across the country – Free Speech for People and American Promise (with which I am affiliated), Move to Amend,United for the People, Common Cause, Public Citizen’s Democracy Is for People – and similar local organizations are being formed to advance the battle lines.

Ordinary Americans are refusing to live in a universe wherein the prominent feature is the black hole created by Citizens United—a death star fed by dark mega-money and swallowing up the Peoples’ constitutional rights.

Americans—We the People—will, I firmly believe, prevail in this effort. We have done it before, and we will do it again.

Celebrate the sixth anniversary of Citizens United by joining an organization committed to beating it.