SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Members of the group MoveOnSullivanNY travelled in a caravan around the county on January 22 spreading the word about their opposition to the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
In the five to four decision that was handed down on January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that advocacy groups such as Citizens United and other entities, such as corporations and unions, can spend as much money as they want in an effort to influence the results of federal elections.
The ruling also reinforced the legal construct in the United States that corporations are people and therefore have the same rights as people, a position which several groups in the United States oppose.
The residents traveled in a caravan of cars festooned with flags and painted with slogans; they visited Liberty, Livingston Manor, Jeffersonville and Callicoon. They handed out literature and gathered signatures for a constitutional amendment that would, among other things, abolish corporate personhood and establish that money is not speech.
One of the organizers, Kathie Aberman, said the group is going to ask the Sullivan County Legislature to pass a resolution supporting the idea of the constitutional amendment as other municipal governments have done. Some 50 cities have proposed resolutions in opposition to corporate personhood, including New York City, where the city council passed a resolution on January 4. More information about the movement is available at movetoamend.org.
But is a constitutional amendment a practical goal? Not according to Michael Sussman, a well-known attorney in the region who is often associated with progressive causes. He gave a talk at the Ted Stroebel Community Center in Monticello after the caravan had finished its route.
He said a push for a constitutional amendment was not likely to be successful, in part because it would need to be approved by 37 states, and he did not believe that is likely.
While he called the Citizens United decision a bad one, he said that there were other decisions that were equally deserving of attention, such as the Garcetti v. Ceballos decision in 2006. In that case, an assistant district attorney, Richard Ceballos, raised objections about “serious misrepresentations” in a warrant. He wrote a memo recommending the related case be dismissed, and claimed that, because of the memo, he was retaliated against. Ceballos said, therefore, his First Amendment right to free speech was violated. But in a five-to-four decision, the Supreme Court ruled that federal employees don’t have a right to free speech if that speech is connected to their employment.
Returning to Citizens United, he said, “It’s a bad decision; however, there’s a huge controversy among progressive legal thinkers about it. A lot of progressive legal thinkers feel that labor unions and corporations, given where we are in American society, should be able to do whatever they want.”
He said he thought a push to amend the Constitution would be a waste of time. But, he said, a similar goal that might be attainable would be campaign reform in New York State, which Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would pursue.