From Democracy Now! a debate on the merits of the amendment movement itself between John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People, and Mark Schmitt, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and former editor of The American Prospect.
Amendment Debate: Bonifaz v. Schmitt
John Bonifaz did a great job explaining the key issues and defending the twin pillars of the best constitutional amendment proposals. The only reason to add anything is owed to the time restricted format.
The first correction is that Nermeen Shaikh introduces the segment with the suggestion that the Sanders/Deutch amendment would address corporate personhood, which it wouldn’t. It would address the Citizens United ruling with respect to campaign finance law but it wouldn’t address the underlying case law that Citizens United was based upon.
Nice shout-out to movement allies by Bonifaz at 43:20.
At 45:44, Schmitt says, “…under the current circumstances [saying] ‘we can’t do anything until we have a constitutional amendment’ is exactly the same as saying ‘we can’t do anything.’ And so I think that’s just sending the wrong signal to people and overlooking the tremendous progress that’s actually being made… on public financing…”
Bonifaz chose to make the more peaceful “we can all get along” point rather than exposing the fallacy of Schmitt’s premise, which begins with his “under the current circumstances” comment. The “current circumstances” have been created by decades of manipulation and won’t become the kind of circumstances Schmitt imagines for an amendment process for a very long time, if ever. It’s just an incredibly defeatist attitude to have in a constitutional republic.
Next, much of the legislative progress Schmitt mentions has been undone in the Courts. The obvious example is Citizens United, which undid much of McCain-Feingold. But public financing itself was successfully challenged even before Citizens United with Davis v. FEC in 2008, and after with the combined cases of McComish v. Bennett and Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. Bonifaz is right that we can work in concert, but the amendment is the constitutional justification for everything Schmitt wants to achieve and without it, legislative success can be turned into judicial failure at any time.
Lastly, when, at 57:55, Schmitt draws a distinction between the “yes we can” amendments he just named and the “no we can’t” amendments that he believes our movement represents, he is deeply confused. Both movements are abolitionist movements. The ERA abolishes special treatment for men and the MTA-FSFP-HRA-type amendments abolish special treatment for legal fictions. They are practically identical in function.
They both take the currently recognized (wrong) distinctions in constitutional law and re-balance by placing like entities into like classes. Women are not property or substandard and, therefore, should rightly be placed in the identical legal class with men. Corporations can exist forever without a single biological requirement. They are not human and don’t belong in the same class with humans but instead with all other private legal fictions.
In both instances, diminishing one is elevating another. That’s the whole point of the 14th Amendment in the first place, diminishing state power, and white-skin privilege (not rights, undeserved entitlements), to elevate black rights from the depths of slavery. If the notion of checks and balances is any clue, what we’re always trying to achieve here is balance. One person’s rights end where another person’s begin. When one group has acquired too many privileges that encroach into areas we traditionally reserve as the individual rights of others, we eventually get around to adjusting the distribution of power to achieve balance. That’s what most constitutional amendments are all about and our amendments are no different than the ERA in that respect.
At least Schmitt agrees with the money as speech angle. It’s a start.