Politics & Government

Two Florida cities ask Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United ruling

When the Supreme Court made its landmark 2008 ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, political warfare was unleashed. It became known among some as the “corporations are people, too” ruling.

A non-profit had produced a documentary highly critical of Hillary Clinton, who was then running to be the Democratic nominee for president. A federal court ruled that the corporation could not advertise the film too close to the time when people would be voting. But the Supreme Court decided that corporations (and labor unions) had the same rights to advertise as individuals, striking down a key portion of the McCain-Feingold law, an election reform passed in 2002 .

The ruling has become a rallying point of the left and others who believe corporate money has a corrupting influence on the electoral process. And now cities are getting into the act, including two in South Florida.

Whether any of that will make a difference is hard to say. In these times ruled by the Internet, when protests can spread virally as they have with both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, anything is possible. A proposal by Bank of America to impose a $5 monthly ATM fee on customers was overturned because of an online petition initiated by one person: Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old recent college graduate.

The Citizens United decision — that’s the name of the organization that made the documentary — has been central to Occupy protestors who say the ruling is just another example of the corporate takeover of government.

And most recently, the city of South Miami and town of Cutler Bay passed resolutions urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its 2010 decision.

“I thought the Supreme Court had moved in a direction that was completely counter to the intention of the founders,” said South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, who first introduced the resolution to his city in October. “The Founding Fathers were suspicious of corporations.”

The two cities called for a constitutional amendment to redefine the word “person” to exclude legal entities.

“My statement is to my citizens, that they mean more to me than corporations,” said Peggy Bell, the Cutler Bay councilwoman who sponsored the November resolution in the town. “I want to reassure the citizens of Cutler Bay that their voices are the ones that matter.”

The municipalities’ formal positions on this national issue raise the question of whether cities should weigh in on such matters and what a resolution such as this one actually means.

Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor of law at Florida International University, said these types of resolutions mean absolutely nothing in the court law, but could hold carry some weight in the court of public opinion.

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