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Legal news from Sunday, December 11, 2011

US lawmaker proposes amendment limiting corporate campaign spending
Brandon Gatto on December 11, 2011 1:55 PM ET

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[JURIST] Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) [official website] on Thursday introduced a constitutional amendment that would exclude a corporation's First Amendment [text] rights to spend money on political campaigns. Named the Saving American Democracy Amendment [text, PDF] the proposal would make clear that corporations are not afforded the same constitutional rights as people and that the political activities of corporations can be regulated by the government. Sanders added that the law would also ban unlimited corporate campaign contributions to candidates. The amendment, he stated [transcript], was created to counteract the controversial 5-4 ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [JURIST report] that a corporation possesses the same First Amendment free speech rights as that of a person:
The Constitution of this country has served us well, but when the Supreme Court says that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. ... I strongly disagree with the ruling. In my view, a corporation is not a person. A corporation does not have First Amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign. Corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries and spend millions and millions of dollars on a campaign in order to buy elections.
Sanders concluded that even though a number of bills have been proposed as a counteraction to the Supreme Court's ruling, the most effective way to reverse the alleged error is to send a "constitutional amendment to the states that says simply and straightforwardly what everyone, except five members of the United States Supreme Court, understands: Corporations are not people with equal constitutional rights."

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United has remained controversial since it was issued in January 2010. Last year, Congress failed to advance campaign finance reform [JURIST report] put forth by members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris van Hollen (D-MD) [official websites] proposed legislation [JURIST report] as well as amended legislation [JURIST report] that would ban foreign companies, companies controlled by foreign companies or governments, government contractors and recipients of the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) [official website] funds from contributing to US elections. The proposed legislation also called for corporate CEOs to report their political spending to the Federal Election Committee [official website]. The administration of President Barack Obama [official website] has likewise been publicly critical [JURIST report] of the Supreme Court's decision, most notably in the president's State of the Union Address [transcript] in January 2010 where he remarked that the the ruling "will open to floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

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Alabama governor working to revise state immigration law
Jamie Reese on December 11, 2011 10:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] announced [press release] Friday that he would work with House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh [official profiles] to make Alabama's new immigration law [HB 56 text] more effective. Bentley assured that the group had no plans to repeal the law, even with pending challenges [JURIST report] from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. According to Bailey, "the essence of the law will not change, but state leaders pledged the revisions to the law will be offered for consideration early in the next Legislative Session so that the law works, it can be enforced and it reflects the hospitable nature of Alabamians." He recognized that changes need to be made so that the law is fair and just, but the governor stood behind his campaign for an effective illegal immigration law. A bill is being developed for consideration at the start of Alabama's next legislative session. The bill's purpose is to clarify, simplify, ensure that all individuals working in Alabama are doing so legally and enable law enforcement to effectively enforce the law.

Last week Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange [official website] suggested repealing specific provisions [JURIST report] of the state's controversial immigration law which criminalize the failure of illegal immigrants to carry registration documents and require public schools to collect information regarding the immigration status of their students. Both these provisions were temporarily blocked [JURIST report] in an October ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website]. The law has faced numerous challenges since taking effect in September. The DOJ challenged the law resulting in a ruling [opinion text] at the end of September that allowed the state to enforce a provision that makes it a felony for an illegal alien to conduct business with the state, among other provisions. The DOJ argued that Alabama's immigration law was preempted by federal laws regulating immigration in the US because of the Supremacy Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a separate brief also asking the court to overturn the new law. The ACLU's brief argued that the laws are designed to make life in Alabama so difficult for illegal aliens that they will be forced to leave the state [JURIST op-ed]. Like the DOJ, the ACLU argued that Alabama's law is a direct attempt to regulate immigration, which is an area that the states have no legitimate interest in regulating and is left only to the federal government to legislate. Alabama's immigration law is only one of the immigration measures [JURIST news archive] currently being challenged by the DOJ, ACLU and others.

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