The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken, but hasn’t had the last word.

One striking result of Nov. 6 was the implicit repudiation of the Citizens United decision, handed down in 2010 and having its first real test.

Citizens was a breathtaking act of judicial overreach, correctly identified at the time. In his first term, President Barack Obama often tried to negotiate even without a reliable partner, but he nailed Citizens during his 2010 State of the Union address.

To the justices seated before him, he said their decision “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests … to spend without limit in our elections.” While Obama violated decorum, his prediction was justified, even though Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” as he listened.

Though Alito didn’t write the 5-4 Citizens opinion, he’s emerged as its most dogged defender. Last week he was at it again, suggesting that newspaper corporations were hypocritical in their repeated criticisms because Citizens only extends the same free speech rights newspapers enjoy to all corporations (and unions.)

This is clever, but fallacious. Newspapers, like citizens, enjoy protected speech because of the First Amendment, which reads, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” It doesn’t mention corporations.

Corporations are legal entities designed for the economic marketplace. To argue they also have political rights would seem, pre-Citizens, absurd, but it’s now the law of the land, according to five justices.

The scary, all-too-plausible, scenario behind Citizens is that it represents the court’s most daring attempt to unite economic with political power, and make the world’s oldest and proudest democracy into a banana republic.

It came awfully close to succeeding. The richest man ever nominated for president, who specialized in the unregulated finance capitalism that produced the Great Recession, fell just short.

But beyond that result, the $6 billion spent to amplify the views of incredibly wealthy Americans further entrenches economic interests in determining policy. The reason we don’t have even the beginnings of a national climate change plan, or a rational health care system, isn’t solely because change offends powerful economic interests, but it’s probably the biggest factor. Mitt Romney lost, but Citizens is still out there, distorting our democracy and frustrating the public interest.

Campaign finance laws, and the public financing of elections, offend the Supreme Five, which tried to sweep them away. In a son-of-Citizens case, the court invalidated key features of Arizona’s Clean Election Act, and so did the same to Maine’s law. The idea of establishing a “level playing field” between publicly and privately financed candidates reduces Chief Justice John Roberts to near-apoplexy.

But without the chance to keep up with big-spending opponents, far fewer legislative candidates will choose public financing — exactly the court’s intent. The $500,000 wasted – err, spent – on a single state Senate race in Bangor clinches the point. Once, candidates aimed to persuade voters they’d represent their interests. Persuasion’s now a distant second to fundraising.

There was widespread revulsion to the tone and content of Campaign 2012. But many experts say, in essence, “Too bad, but there’s nothing you can do.” Don’t listen to them.

First, make disclosure requirements comprehensive and effective. Three years after the 2009 same-sex marriage referendum – even after such marriages were legalized Nov. 6 – we still don’t know who paid for the National Organization for Marriage’s campaign against it, thanks to NOM’s defiance of the law.

The anonymity of federal campaign contributions is far greater because Republicans blocked efforts to require disclosure of the money flooding the system through Citizens. Passing the Disclose Act must be at the top of Congress’ 2013 agenda.

But disclosure isn’t enough. Corporations accountable to no one besides their CEOs shouldn’t dominate politics. Though it will be arduous, a constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations are not citizens is the best route to redress.

Given our apparently gridlocked system, and that the last important amendment, giving 18-year-olds the vote, was ratified 40 years ago, this might seem impossible. But nothing can finally resist the will of engaged Americans. Citizens has created as much outrage in red states as blue ones. Maine lost a vital part of the Clean Elections Act, but Montana lost its century-old ban on corporate contributions.

The movement has begun. Already, 23 Maine towns and cities have endorsed overturning Citizens, including Republican strongholds such as Scarborough.

Citizens may well be the most undemocratic Supreme Court ruling since the Dred Scott decision on fugitive slaves helped bring on the Civil War. We should not rest until it’s expunged.

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 25 years. He may be reached at[email protected].


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