After a vigorous debate over the scope of the First Amendment and whether corporations should have the same rights as people, the Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a joint resolution calling for a national constitutional convention to deal with the issue of money in politics.
Senators moved the joint resolution toward a final vote after rejecting several Republican amendments on votes that showed the measure likely has more than enough votes to pass. It would still have to get through the House by next Monday to go into effect.
According to the liberal group Progressive Maryland, Maryland would join four other Democratic-leaning states that have issued a call for the a convention to deal with such Supreme Court rulings as the Citizens United decision in which justices extended the same political contribution rights to corporations as held by individuals.
While the U.S. Constitution provides a mechanism for convening a convention, it requires two-thirds of the state legislatures to issue such a call for the same purpose. With the bar set that high, there has been no constitutional convention since 1787.
Proponents said such a resolution is needed to pressure Congress to deal with the growing influence of money in politics before it stifles democracy. But opponents warned against calling a convention that could narrow the First Amendment and rewrite the Constitution in ways that couldn't be predicted.
Fred Wertheimer, a veteran advocate of campaign finance reform, weighed in late Tuesday with a warning that Maryland lawmakers were heading in the wrong direction. Wertheimer, a former president of Common Cause who now heads the group Democracy 21, pointed to comments by Supreme Court justices that nothing could restrict what a convention might do once one was convened.
"The call of a convention would place all of the constitutional rights of individuals up for grabs: protections for civil rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, voting, privacy and many others," he said. "Also up for grabs would be the role of the courts in protecting the rights of individuals and minority interests."