MANSKI AND GRAVES: Amend the Constitution to rein in corporations

February 12, 2010
Ben Manski and Lisa Graves

You just lost the heart of your citizenship, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.


In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, five justices asserted: “By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing and respect for the speaker’s voice.”


The “disadvantaged person” they reference is, unbelievably, the corporation. In law-speak, this means that as “persons,” corporations now wield constitutional protections against government regulation of elections.

Justice John Paul Stevens stated the obvious in writing for the four justices who dissented: “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires … (and) are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”


Corporations aren’t persons. They are creations of government. They also consolidate wealth. They are among the greatest concentrations of power ever known.


For these reasons, throughout American history the public has pressed the government to keep a tight control over corporations. Now that control is decimated.


If corporations are truly “persons” protected by the Constitution, decades of rules protecting consumers from unsafe working conditions, unsafe products, harmful pollution and other ills are likely to be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or be undone by politicians afraid of provoking corporate attack ads. Those laws were enacted to “promote the general welfare” at the request of “We the People.”


What can be done?


Some members of our sadly dysfunctional Congress are calling for a new campaign finance fix. But we’ve had a century of campaign finance fixes, and look what the Supreme Court has systematically done to them. Against the court, corporate money and corporate lobbyists, Congress has proven ineffective at best and an accomplice at worst.


Beyond Congress and the Supreme Court, there is one remaining higher power, the power from which all authority in this country derives. This is the power of the American people to amend the Constitution and alter our form of government. Five guys on the Supreme Court do not respect the real people. It’s time to, in the words of Thomas Paine, “begin the world again.”


Within one day of the ruling in Citizens United, 25,000 Americans from across the country launched -- a movement to renew the Constitution with a series of democracy amendments, beginning, first and foremost, with overturning this decision and ending the growing reign of the corporation.


Constitutional amendments are achievable, and yet we know they are not easy. But then neither is it easy to live in a country owned and controlled by a tiny few. Take your citizenship back. Reclaim your destiny. Help right the wrong the Supreme Court has done. Amend the Constitution

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Ben Manski is the executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation and a practicing attorney, and Lisa Graves is the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy under Attorneys General Janet Reno and John Ashcroft. They are members of the executive committee of and can be reached at