Senate, House panels pass memorials urging amendment to U.S Constitution overturning Citizens United decision

By Matthew Reichbach

Sens. Eric Griego and Steve Fischmann discussing their proposals to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Photo by Matthew Reichbach.

Committees in both the Senate and House have approved memorials that call for Congress to pass and send back to the states for ratification an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the controversial and unpopular 5 to 4 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010.

The History

The Citizens United decision allows corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of money to groups that support or oppose candidates. It swept away decades of campaign finance law aimed at reining in the influence of money in politics.

This is a tradition of reform that dates back as far as the Tillman Act of 1907 that was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt and banned direct corporate contributions in federal election campaigns.

Because this Supreme Court decision now trumps anything that Congress could do on its own, a constitutional amendment is the only recourse. Seven times previously in our nation’s history, the constitutional amendment route has been used to reverse Supreme Court decisions.

The most prominent example is probably the Fourteenth Amendment that was needed to overrule the pre-Civil War era Dred Scott decision, which enshrined Chief Justice Roger Taney’s constitutional interpretation that said black people were not, and could not become, citizens of the United States or enjoy any of the privileges and immunities of citizenship.

Legislative action

Fast forward to 2012 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On Thursday the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted to give HM4 a “Do Pass” recommendation, sending it to the House floor. It passed on 3-2 party line vote with Democrats in support and both Republicans voting against.

Friday morning, two Citizens United memorials moved forward with bipartisan support as the Senate Rules Committee unanimously gave a “Do Pass” to SM3 and SJM24. Two Republican Senators joined with the five Democrats in support of the two measures which now move on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

UPDATE:

Sens. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) and Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) later changed their votes to vote against the memorials. The official vote is 5-2.

“I heard all the time from my constituents and the public in general about the lack of confidence in our political system,” Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), the sponsor of the House memorial, said during the hearing. “And really the biggest complaint is money in politics.”

Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces), the sponsor of the Senate memorial, said that he invests in some mutual funds who could use that money to spread messages that he does not agree with and that they are “usurping” his free speech.

“I don’t think that’s democracy,” Fischmann said.

Sen. Eric Griego sponsored the Joint Memorial which echoes a national proposal by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Fischmann said his memorial allows more latitude in approaches to undoing the harm caused by the Citizens United decision.

At last count, five amendment resolutions addressing Citizens United have been introduced in the congress, including one by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall.

In explaining his opposition, Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell) said he would be “hypocritical” to vote for the memorial because he was the recipient of a huge amount of money when he defeated House Minority Whip Dan Foley in a 2008 party primary. (Heath Haussamen reported extensively on that race – here and here.)

“I would not have succeeded without significant funding,” Kintigh said.

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Interim Watch: Unemployment Insurance Fund (In)Solvency

By Charlotte Chinana

The Legislative Finance Committee met in Socorro Thursday to hear not only the latest projections for state revenues, but also the status of the unemployment insurance fund in the wake of Governor Martinez’s partial veto earlier this year of legislation that would have fixed the problem. A panel presentation on the subject pretty much says it all:  “Unemployment Insurance – Where are we headed in 2012? Insolvency, Federal Loans and Employer Contribution Increases.”

Celina Bussey, Cabinet Secretary for the Workforce Solutions Department (WSD), gave a detailed presentation about the unemployment outlook for New Mexico.

According to her office, as of May, the state’s average unemployment rate was 6.9%, and it has been steadily declining over a three-month period.

However, while the overall certified unemployment insurance claims have decreased during that period (from approximately 66,000 to 36,000), the state isn’t seeing a similar overall decline in initial claims being filed on a weekly basis. Moreover, there is a gap between people who are unemployed, and people who are unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits.

Secretary Bussey stated that, since the state trends tend to mirror federal trends – with a lag – there’s a concern that we might see an uptick in the unemployment rate in New Mexico.

Officials from WSD highlighted the fact that unemployment compensation payments have more than doubled by fiscal quarter since 2009, and that during peak periods (over the past two years) daily payments have hit the $1 million dollar mark. While the state had projected to pay out approximately $16 million in benefits for the 2011 fiscal year, the actual figure was closer to $17.2 million.

To address this shortfall, the state is looking into various scenarios, including increasing employer contributions, and taking out a loan from the U.S. Department of Labor). In addition, changes are to the reporting system are being contemplated to identify potential instances of overpayment, while ensuring that work search requirements are being met.

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Martinez loses another Supreme Court case

By Matthew Reichbach
On Wednesday, Governor Susana Martinez lost another case before the New Mexico Supreme Court. This one involved the state’s high court telling the Governor that vetoing a single digit from an appropriation, in this case slashing a $150,000 to $50,000, overstepped her authority as laid forth by the state Constitution.

The illegal veto would have slashed money appropriated to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. Two state Senators and two members of the state House of Representatives filed suit to invalidate the veto.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for our constitution and the people of New Mexico,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Silver City, said in a joint statement following the Supreme Court’s decision. “The principle of separation of powers is the cornerstone of our government. The balance of power is equally divided among the three branches of government and the court’s decision reaffirmed this by preserving the legislature’s exclusive appropriating authority.”

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Martinez’s veto.

Reps. Luciano “Lucky” Varela of Santa Fe and Henry “Kiki” Saavdera of Albuquerque were also party to the lawsuit and the four legislators split the cost of bringing the lawsuit.

“The Court has now given guidance that the only way for the governor to prevent these types of excessive spending measures is to veto the entire amount,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said according to Reuters. “The governor is hopeful that the Legislature will work with her to prevent such vetoes from becoming necessary in the future.”

This isn’t the first setback in the Supreme Court by the Republican governor.

Martinez has not had much luck with the state’s high court, losing three rulings including one on slashing regulations and another on her decisions involving the state labor board. The state ruled unanimously that Martinez exceeded her authority in removing two members of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

Martinez defended her vetoes by noting that governors had previously used similar line-item vetoes. These were 70 years ago and were not challenged at the time.

The Supreme Court did not make a decision on another lawsuit that Martinez is facing over one of her vetoes. The lawsuit contends that Martinez’s line-item veto of the portions of an unemployment insurance bill that raise revenue is illegal. The six lawmakers filing suit against Martinez argue that the bill does not appropriate money and therefore cannot be line-item vetoed.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Commerce and Industry both backed the bill that would stave off insolvency in the state’s unemployment fund. Already most states in the country have seen their unemployment funds go broke.

An Obsessive and Frightening Zeal

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

As the 60-day legislative session winds to a close and Gov. Susana Martinez completes her first few months in office, the people of New Mexico still lack a coherent plan from the executive-in-chief to generate jobs and stimulate the economy.

What New Mexicans DO have from Gov. Martinez is a solid, three-point plan to persecute undocumented immigrants.

She’s been working overtime on that.

Today’s Albuquerque Journal detailed the Governor’s plan to give Secretary of State Dianna Duran a list of New Mexico driver’s licenses issued to foreign nationals so they can be cross-checked against the state’s voter registration rolls.

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Laura Gómez Reflects on Sotomayor Confirmation

SupremeCourtFirst let’s rejoice at the fact that the eminently-qualified Judge Sonia Sotomayor today was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will join the ranks of the U.S. Supreme Court. The first female Latina Supreme Court Justice ever will bring great wisdom and experience to the nation’s highest court.

But let’s not forget that the final vote was 68 to 31 – a margin that reflects the nasty partisan battle in the Senate over Sotomayor.

A few weeks ago, you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing Sotomayor, a daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, face a scrum of sneering, mostly male, mostly white members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted the hearings on her nomination.  Senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama grilled Sotomayor over past statements and decisions in a manner that many found condescending on both gender and ethnic grounds.

Several Republican senators on the committee, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa (who couldn’t even be bothered to pronounce Sotomayor’s name properly) ultimately declined to vote for Sotomayor.

In the wake of Sotomayor’s approval by the full Senate, many say Republicans like Hatch and Grassley – and perhaps the entire Republican party – will face the wrath of a growing pool of Hispanic voters, who will not forget key Republicans’ failure to cast a historic vote (NY Times and WaPo).

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the televised Sotomayor sideshow, I spoke with Laura Gómez, a professor of law at the University of New Mexico and author of the book Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race, published in 2007 by New York University Press.

Gómez, a New Mexico native, wrote an essay on the historic meaning of Sotomayor’s nomination which appeared in USA Today last month.

Here were some of her observations on the endless Judiciary Committee hearings:

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