Universities Join Effort to Overturn Citizens United Decision

Students at the University of California at Berkeley will vote on a referendum this week as part of an effort to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its controversial 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision nearly three years after the original ruling.

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According to the decision, political spending to support individual candidates constitutes a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the federal government cannot deny corporations or unions the right to spend.

If the Berkeley referendum is passed, campus leaders will send annual letters to the Supreme Court asking for a reversal of the decision until the high court takes action. The campus already passed a resolution condemning the decision in 2010.

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The hope, said Morgan Prentice, a UC Berkeley sophomore and the referendum's campaign manager, is that the Supreme Court will take notice and stop giving corporations what Prentice said was an unfair advantage to influence political decisions.

"We compete against other interest groups on a state level for money," she said. "If those interest groups are able to spend more money on elections, they might have an upper hand in getting more money than us."

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The campus effort comes after the California State Legislature passed a resolution in 2012 that proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. A number of other California cities, including San Francisco and San Diego, have already passed resolutions condemning the decision.

A total of 27 constitutional amendments have been approved by the Supreme Court. The Move to Amend coalition, made up of organizations and individuals opposed to Citizens United, was one such group that proposed an amendment in February.

UC Berkeley isn't the only university where students have taken a stand against the Citizens United decision.

Last year, the University of Washington passed its own resolution to oppose the decision and notified Congress and Washington state senators, but it won't be sending letters to the Supreme Court anytime soon.

"There was no direction in legislation to continue that effort," said University of Washington junior Ada Waelder, who is also the student senate speaker. "It's hard working with the Supreme Court. You can't generally lobby it."

The university hopes to continue working with other universities nationwide to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the decision, Waelder said.