A small group of students and community members gathered on Sproul Plaza Friday afternoon to rally against the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and that the government cannot keep corporations or unions from spending money to support individual candidates in elections. CalPIRG hosted the rally to raise awareness of the impact the decision could have on the relationship between wealthy interests and politics.
“Citizens United is the single most drastic, damaging action of the Supreme Court in our lifetime,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who spoke at the rally. “Pretty much every policy that the government votes on is going to be skewed by the super rich, who can afford to put millions of dollars into elections.
Speakers at the rally urged that corporations are not people and therefore should not be subject to the same free speech regulation.
“My name is Nolan Pack, and I am a person, not a corporation,” said ASUC Senator Nolan Pack. “People can come before you and say that. The day that ExxonMobil can stand here and say that they’re a person — I don’t even know what that will look like.
In March, the ASUC Senate voted to place a referendum on the ballot asking students whether they support overturning the Supreme Court’s decision. If a majority of students vote in support of overturning, the ASUC president and Graduate Assembly president will send notice to the president of the United States and California’s congressional delegation annually until both Congress and the California Legislature have passed legislation to address the Supreme Court’s ruling.
ASUC Senator Mihir Deo said that although he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision, he has problems with the way the referendum is worded.
“Constitutional free speech rights is very broad,” Deo said. “If this referendum were to be taken literally, then it would be a statement saying that corporations have no free speech rights at all, and that is wrong. The issue is that the Supreme Court ruled that money is something that is freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Caitlin Quinn, political director of Cal Berkeley Democrats and a Vote Coalition deputy, said that the Citizens United ruling could have actually encouraged higher voter turnout in November’s election.
“I think that it’s a good sign that even though Citizens United is this really messed-up thing, I think that it also scared a lot of people into voting for their first time,” Quinn said. “Right now, politics is a very moneyed game, and students have to care about it.