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WV House resolution seeks to overturn Citizens United

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The House of Delegates on March 28 took a step toward potentially overturning Citizens United.

Delegates voted 60-39 to adopt House Resolution 9, which calls on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and related cases.

The 2010 case held provisions under the 1st Amendment prohibit government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. House Resolution 9 seeks to prevent corporations and unions from pouring money into primary and general elections at the sate and national level by asking Congress to repeal, though constitutional amendment, the Supreme Court's decision.

The debate in the House came down to philosophical differences — are corporations considered individuals and does the 1st Amendment apply to them? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, dusted off the history books and pointed out the Dutch East India Company, the first multi-national corporation, was created to do big business and had powers to declare war and to try, imprison and execute people. But, Ellem said, times have changed.

"It was a tool," he said. "Corporations existed before the 1st Amendment. They existed before our constitution. Since a corporation is a tool for commerce, I strongly believe being a tool we created, we have the power, we as the legislative body, and the Supreme Court has chimed in on it, but we have the right to impose restrictions."

But to Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, Citizen's United evened the playing field and created a system that is applicable to all Americans and anyone is allowed to present information to the voters.

"Citizens must be free to obtain information from all sources to make an informed decision when casting a vote," he said. "Having more speech, not less, in a political process is paramount to our democracy."

He went on to call HR 9 a "ridiculous resolution that prevents free speech."

Democrats who spoke on the issue pointed out the Supreme Court has been wrong in the past. Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, said the Supreme Court was off-base when it ruled in the Dred Scott case that African-Americans cannot be citizens. That was decision was later reversed.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said no elected officials like to be targeted by anonymous groups, so HR 9 allows the Legislature to react the only way it can.

"This is doing the only thing we know how to do when the Supreme Court bases a ruling on a constitutional principle," he said. "This is what we've got to do, and that's to change the constitution."