Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Lawrence Lessig Headshot

Why I'm Calling for a Constitutional Amendment

Posted: Updated:

The following is an excerpt from an essay I just wrote on why America desperately needs a new constitutional amendment. Last week's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United makes it more clear than ever that our political system is broken, and that the only path forward is a constitutional amendment which will forever rid Congress of the influence of lobbyists and donors.

Last week's decision in Citizens United was an important moment in the history of our democracy. Much more important, however, is how we respond. There was little surprise that the Court would reverse itself on the question of whether government can ban independent political expenditures by corporations. The hints by this Supreme Court have been clear enough, and this case was just the latest in a string of decisions by the Court cutting back on Congress's power to secure fair elections.

The surprise, and in my view, real cause for concern, however, was how little weight the Court gave to the central purpose of any fair election law: the purpose to protect the institutional integrity of the democratic process. That value seemed invisible to this Court, as if we didn't now live in a democracy in which the vast majority has lost faith in their government.

We need to trust our democracy. We need to believe that its representatives are guided if not by truth, then at least by what their constituents want. Our Framers gave us a Republic in which the government was to be "dependent," as the Federalist Papers put it, "upon the People." They were obsessed with assuring that the government be independent of anything else.

But the vast majority of Americans do not believe that their government is "dependent upon the People." The vast majority believes the government is dependent upon money. Most believe "money buys results in Congress." Most therefore doubt the integrity of this the most important democratic institution established by our Framers.

This is a corruption -- a corruption of the very institution of our democracy. And this corruption makes it harder for both Reagan Republicans and Progressive Democrats to achieve the substantive ends that each seeks. For 20 out of the last 29 years, we've had conservative Republican Presidents. But Reagan Republicans have yet to see the size of government shrink, or the tax code simplified -- because Congress has no interest in smaller government or simpler taxes, since both would make it harder to raise campaign funds. Likewise, despite the election of Barack Obama with a super-majority Democratic Congress, Progressive Democrats have watched with disgust as every substantive reform of this administration has been stymied by special interests expert in preserving the status quo.

There is a great frustration in our country today. Rightfully so. The Obama voters whose frustration was manifest as hopefulness in the last election, and the Tea Partiers whose frustration has been manifest as resistance ever since, now share a feeling that has no partisan nature: that decisions are no longer made through the electoral process in America. That change occurs elsewhere, on another axis, its direction controlled by a fortunate few who are neither dependent upon, nor accountable to "the People."

Our single common purpose must be to end this corruption. No side in this debate has the right to demand rules that benefit them against the other. But all sides need to recognize that this corruption is destroying American democracy. We need a system that the people trust -- that gives the people a reason to participate, and convinces them that their participation is rewarded by the substantive policies that they have pursued.

Long before Citizens United, America had already lost faith in the integrity of its government. Had the other side prevailed, and the case come out the other way, we would have lost faith still. That's because even without the freedom of corporations to spend money on political speech during the last days of a election, the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats alike had become dependent upon the money that the corporations, unions and other special interests could supply. Whether through PACs, or large contributions bundled by lobbyists, already these special interests have a powerful control over how Washington works. They didn't need this special gift from the Supreme Court. We gain nothing if the response to Citizens United succeeds simply in reversing its effect. There are many such proposals floating about in Congress now -- most prominently, one that would ban entities with government contracts (i.e., every big business) from spending corporate money on political speech. Such reforms give us nothing because they simply return us to the corrupted Congress that we already have. We need more than a return to the status quo before Thursday. The status quo before Thursday was the problem. Instead, we urgently need a reform movement to act in two complementing ways -- first, to enact the first step of the reforms we need to restore our
democracy, and second, to assure that those reforms not be vulnerable to the increasing activism of this Supreme Court...

Read the rest of the essay here.

Register To Vote