Schumer: Citizens United Worse than Racial Segregation Case Plessy v Ferguson

April 20, 2012 - 4:45 PM
Sen. Charles Schumer

Sen. Charles Schumer addresses the "Stand Up for Women's Health' rally.

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United was the “worst” decision since the court upheld racist segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson.

“The point I’d make here – and that’s why a constitutional amendment shouldn’t be necessary but is – there’s balance in every amendment. The First Amendment is not absolute. You can’t falsely scream fire. We have anti-pornography laws. We have libel laws, and what more important balance than to keep the wellspring of our democracy?

“Citizens United was an outgrowth of this. It is the worst decision since Plessy v. Ferguson – I believe that – of the United States Supreme Court,” Schumer said Wednesday at a conference of Democratic members of Congress and liberal groups focusing on amending the Constitution to repeal Citizens United.

Plessy v. Ferguson is the 1896 case in which the court upheld the constitutionality of racist segregation laws in the states.

Schumer said that Citizens United was an “outgrowth” of an earlier case – Buckley v. Valeo which ruled that Congress could restrict how much money a person gives to a candidate, but not how much of a candidate’s own money can be spent on their campaign.

“Buckley v. Valeo was a decision that simply said that a multi-millionaire had the right to put as much money as he or she wanted into his own campaign. And once that happens the whole thing unravels, because if you’re not going to have limits on millionaires, how do you limit everybody else? You’ll just have a legislature and everybody else and millionaires,” he said.

Schumer said that a constitutional amendment was needed to roll back the free-speech rights expanded by the court since Buckley, particularly the free-speech rights granted to political activist groups by Citizens United.

“This constitutional amendment is a moral, political, and substantive imperative,” he said. “And frankly, if Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton – both sides of the equation – were looking down on this room, they’d say ‘Go forward, right on,’ because our democracy is being ruined by these decisions.”

Several House and Senate Democrats have proposed amendments to overturn Citizens United and take away the free speech rights of political advocacy groups. Common among them is the theme that corporations should not have First Amendment rights, based on the inaccurate conclusion that the court ruled that corporations were no different than people.

What the court actually ruled was that a group of people acting together for a common purpose – known legally as a corporation – retained its First Amendment rights even when participating in the political process.