Amending the Constitution to Protect Our Democracy

In a month characterized by inspiring wins and devastating losses for civil rights in our country, I have been thinking about the people who work for years and years leading up to historic decisions. The people who do the not-always-glamorous work of building a movement, piece by piece. It's what columnist Gail Collins has called, in reference to the women's suffrage movement, the "slog."

The campaign for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote spanned more than 70 years. It was a daunting task that included hundreds of campaigns at every level of government. It was so daunting, in fact, that those who began the work didn't live to see its passage. But the end result was the Nineteenth Amendment, and our country is immeasurably better for it.

Amending the Constitution should be hard. It is our nation's guiding text. Still, there have been multiple moments when "we the people" have had to collectively act to change our nation's core document in the name of preserving democracy and the common good. The women's suffrage amendment was one of those moments. Today, amending the Constitution to reverse Citizens United and related cases is another.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections. The decision was a radical departure from longstanding precedent and exacerbated an already corrupt system dominated by moneyed interests. The effects of the decision have not been hard to see. This November's election cycle was the most expensive in history, including an estimated $123 million in "dark money" spent to support or oppose federal candidates. The voices of everyday Americans are increasingly hard to hear over the roar of spending from corporations and wealthy special interests.

But we the people are taking note and taking action. With Delaware declaring its support earlier this month, 15 states have now formally called upon Congress to send to the states a constitutional amendment undoing Citizens United and related decisions. Nearly 500 municipalities have done so as well. I think even Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt would be impressed by that kind of momentum.

This month, Senators Tom Udall and Jon Tester heeded the call and introduced two constitutional amendments aimed at undoing the harm caused by these cases. As Sen. Udall put it, "We cannot stand by and let corporate money drown out the voices of the middle class." Lawmakers across the country agree. State legislative leaders from California, New Mexico, Maryland, Illinois, Montana and Vermont issued public statements celebrating the introduction of the Udall and Tester amendments, and called upon their congressional delegations to join the 23 senators and 81 representatives who have already declared their support for constitutional remedies.

As Maryland State Senator and People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin so aptly noted, "The U.S. Constitution belongs to the American people, and in our history we have many times had to amend it to respond to the antics of a conservative Supreme Court playing politics with our most precious document."

Many times in our history. Let us not forget that.

There are plenty of intermediate steps we can and should take to help quell the tide of money and corporate power polluting our democracy, measures like disclosure and accountability laws. But after years of working with advocates across the country on this issue, I am convinced that the only way to completely reverse the damage done to our democracy by this reckless Court is through amending the Constitution. It's a big step, but it is one that our nation has taken before when the need is compelling enough.

And this time, I believe -- and millions of other Americans believe -- it is.