Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is retired from the bench, but fortunately not from public life. Last week, he made an unusual appearance before the Senate Rules Committee to testify about the shredding of campaign finance laws.
Justice Stevens knows this subject better than most. In 2010, he wrote the eloquent dissent to the high court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates of political spending to the clear detriment of democracy — something he predicted at the time. But the Supreme Court only compounded the damage in its McCutcheon decision last month.
For the conservative majority on the court, money equals free speech — and it’s a wonder there are any limits left. Justice Stevens testified this view must change: “While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech.”
But nothing will change unless Americans insist on it, and Justice Stevens points the way. His new book is titled Six Amendments — How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. He proposes an amendment on campaign financing that would prohibit the First Amendment from being used as an excuse to deny “reasonable limits” on expenditures.
Defining “reasonable” would keep future jurists occupied. But this may be American democracy’s last hope.