Assemblyman Mike Gatto hopes Article 5 can overturn Citizens United

Dec 12, 2012

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Laird Monahan stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial next to a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the United States Constitution during a demonstration against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling on the National Mall October 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Plenty of people were unhappy with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizen’s United, which resulted in a constitutional amendment that allows corporations and unions the ability unlimited spending on political campaigns.  Even staunch Republican supporters had second thoughts after heavily funded super-PACS dominated campaign dollars in the last election.

But according to Los Angeles Assemblyman Michael Gatto, there is a way to reverse the decision, hidden in the constitution itself.  Article 5 directs Congress to call a convention for proposing Amendments to the constitution, if two-thirds of the states agree.  Any proposed amendment would then need to be ratified by three-quarters of the legislature. Gatto hopes this little-known corner the constitution could undo Citizens United. He’s introduced a resolution that he hopes will get the ball rolling in California, with other states to follow.  

Article 5 has never been used successfully, and constitutional law experts aren’t sure it’s a good idea.  The problem?  Once the constitutional convention has been called, it’s not clear that the proposals will be limited to just one – any number of amendments could be thrown in the mix. This process, they warn, could lead to open season on the Constitution, putting the First Amendment and other beloved protections up for grabs.

Is the use of Article 5 to stop Citizens United appropriate – or even feasible? Should California lead the way in this effort?  Or are we opening up a can of constitutional worms?


Michael Gatto, California Assemblyman for 43rd District,  representing the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and parts of Los Angeles including Los Feliz, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, and Van Nuys.

Justin Levitt, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School

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