Smarter than the Average Bear and Nary a Clue

Constitutional Amendments 101

(Photo credit: Village Square)

The title above refers to me.  After writing my previous post suggesting consideration of  a constitutional amendment to combat the ever increasing role of money in politics,  I have come to see what deep waters I jumped into.  It all looks murky from below sea level.   After a response from a lawyer friend and watching a segment on UpwithChrisHayes Sunday.  I have several second thoughts, a few which I’ll mention.

This instance exemplifies how difficult it is to be a so-called informed citizen these days when the key issues are so complex they would be hard to figure out even if  the information available to us could be trusted.  As reflected in the growth of public fact checkers, such as factcheck.org, understanding requires much sorting out with questionable results from one’s efforts.

As I have written in this blog at various times, while  I have left of center biases, I am more concerned with illuminating issues than in pushing a political agenda.   The one thing I know right now is that the financial amendment issue, like so many other political issues I encounter,  probably deserves at least a book.   I cannot write a book on each issue, but I will try to do something useful short of that.  Though it will take time.

First, a couple of  second thoughts on that last post.  There I mentioned  two proposed constitutional amendments restricting political contributions, one proposed by an organization called Move To Amend, and the other by Lawrence Tribe, “one of the nation’s pre-eminent liberal legal scholars.”  The former amendment goes like this:

“We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. ” (bold added).

That seemed to make sense, so I signed the petition.   Money isn’t speech and corporations are not people, right?   Well, legally not so fast.   My lawyer friend pointed out that corporations are usually treated like people, in that they have rights and restrictions.  As he wrote:

“I am saying that legal entities have the same rights as individuals (almost all statutes classify a business entity as a “person”)  Once you start limiting the rights of certain legal structures you head down a very steep and slippery slope because who is doing the limiting and where does the limiting end?”

Hmm….  Remember when Mitt Romney said  “corporations are people, too”?  I found that hard to swallow, but in this legal sense, a corporation does seem like a real person, just like Mitt Romney.

Then I watched the Chris Hayes show on Sunday and  saw Glenn Greenwald, who is hard to peg politically other than he is very concerned with civil rights.   He explained why he and a number of liberals (including the ACLU) favored the Citizens United  decision because they did not want government to regulate speech.  As someone at the ACLU wrote:   “…the ACLU does not support campaign finance regulation premised on the notion that the answer to money in politics is to ban political speech.”

So, we have some people on the left and the right joining together to resist bans on political speech.  They seem to be saying “money is speech.”  In any event, rather than restrict this “speech”  the ACLU and Greenwald  favor robust public campaign financing, while the ACLU also backs greater disclosure rules as ways to check the escalating cost of political campaigns.

Meanwhile my lawyer friend seems to like the Lawrence Tribe amendment, but I’ll save his reasoning for later after I try to understand it myself.  I will also develop a Constitutional Amendment page under the Centerville category above, where I will gather and sort out information on this topic.   I welcome help with this, especially from those with legal training  (I’ll have a comment button at the bottom of the Amendment page)Right now there doesn’t seem a need to rush.

I still think it a good idea to sign the petition at  Move To Amend, even if you disagree with the wording of the amendment.   That wording can change and a good response will suggest some people out here do care.   Also, I believe it good to do small political acts just to get in the habit should a day come when we can do big political ones together.   It’s  sort of like making a habit of doing  “random acts of kindness.”

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2 responses to “Smarter than the Average Bear and Nary a Clue

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