Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 5, 2016

Hobby Lobby Ruling Fuels Amendment Push

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In its recent ruling to confer religious liberties on closely held corporations, the Supreme Court makes no mention of its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

Yet the high court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruling grows directly out of its Citizens United decision to reject limits on independent corporate political spending. And the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling deepens the rift on Capitol Hill between liberals agitating for limits on corporate power and conservatives railing against government intrusions on free speech.

Senate Democrats have already scheduled a vote on a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states the power to restrict political spending. Such an amendment directly challenges both Citizens United and the court’s landmark Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which in 1976 upheld limits on campaign contributions but found caps on political spending unconstitutional.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has stoked liberal anger over the court’s expanding “corporate personhood” doctrine, which critics on the left argue threatens a host of environmental, civil rights and consumer safety laws. Now some Democrats on Capitol Hill are considering additional amendments that go beyond campaign financing to more explicitly spell out that corporations are not people.

On the day of the Hobby Lobby ruling, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., announced that he would sign onto a joint resolution authored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that proposes a constitutional amendment stating the terms “people,” “person” or “citizen” as used in the Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is rounding up support for a House version of the measure.

“From Citizens United to Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court majorities continue to extend our basic Constitutional rights — the inalienable rights held by individuals — to corporations,” Markey said in a statement. “Corporations are not people, period.”

Markey and Tester are also co-sponsors of Democrats’ amendment to limit campaign spending, which is authored by Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado and is slated for a vote this summer. Senate Democrats also plan a vote on the newly reintroduced campaign disclosure bill known as the DISCLOSE Act. Democrats say the various measures go hand in hand.

“It’s going to take a comprehensive approach to campaign finance reform to make sure that elections are in the hands of people and not corporate voices,” said Tester spokeswoman Marnee Banks.

Conservatives reject proposals to amend the Constitution out of hand, arguing that the Udall-Bennet measure is over-broad and would free Congress and the government to arbitrarily silence American citizens.

“If adopted, Sen. Udall’s constitutional amendment would help entrench those in Congress by insulating incumbent politicians from criticism and from granting members of Congress unprecedented power to regulate the speech of those they serve,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

But the movement to amend the Constitution has won some popularity outside the Beltway. On the day of the Hobby Lobby ruling, activists in California were celebrating the state Senate’s approval of a bill calling for a convention to amend the Constitution to get money out of politics.

“We feel like if we can win some victories here in California, the biggest state in the union, then it can be an example and give hope to people around the country,” said Kai Newkirk, co-founder of an anti-corruption group dubbed 99Rise. The group organized a 47-day march from Los Angeles to Sacramento, and is in the midst of a 24-hour “occupation” and vigil at the state capitol there.

The Hobby Lobby ruling hinges on religious freedom, not the First Amendment, but it has campaign finance implications, legal scholars say. The ruling challenges the traditional distinction between nonprofit and for-profit corporations, noted law professor Tamara Piety at the University of Tulsa. The administration had exempted religious nonprofit corporations from its contraception mandate, but not for-profit companies. The high court rejected that approach, saying tax-exempt and for-profit corporations must be treated the same.

“Not all corporations that decline to organize as nonprofits do so in order to maximize profit,” wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in the court’s majority opinion. “For example, organizations with religious and charitable aims might organize as for-profit corporations because of the potential advantages of that corporate form, such as the freedom to participate in lobbying for legislation or campaigning for political candidates who promote their religious or charitable goals.”

Religious advocacy groups are no doubt taking note. Abortion opponents not only rallied behind the Hobby Lobby challenge, but have led a series of successful legal challenges to the campaign finance laws, with the help of Indiana election lawyer James Bopp Jr., the general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee.

Senate Democrats’ remedy — to amend the Constitution — is a long shot at best. It would take either two-thirds of each house of Congress or two thirds of state legislatures to even propose such a fix, and three-fourths of the states to ratify it.

But the Hobby Lobby ruling further spotlights the growing treatment of corporations as people, said John Bonifaz, president of Free Speech for People, which promotes amending the Constitution to restrict campaign money: “I do think this case is a wake-up call to people who may have been looking at Citizens United solely as a campaign finance matter.”



3 Ways Hobby Lobby Ruling Could Impact 2014 (Video)

Senate Democrats Eye End Run Around Hobby Lobby Case (Updated)

Democrats Reintroduce DISCLOSE Act

Campaign Finance Hearings Showcase Extremes | Rules of the Game



  • Progressive are stupid sheep.

    They will NEVER get enough of the states go sign on. The only changes to be made to the constitution will be by national convention to limit the power of the government. There will be no changes pushed by the federal government. Not happening.

  • Do Some Reading

    There is no need for an amendment. Read 1 U.S.C. 1, which the Court cites. All Congress has to do is change the law.

  • Samuel Stone

    I can’t see such an amendment gaining traction … what can we do, but despair and laugh? ‘Crafting is the best contraceptive, says Hobby Lobby’ … hilarious!

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    The Republican Party has failed the American people, especially the three million unemployed families who are STILL without an unemployment extension of benefits since late last December. While they fought in the senate for their bosses the Koch Brothers pipeline bill, they flatly refused to help the unemployed families needing an extension of benefits. These families over the past six months have fallen deeper and deeper into financial ruin and poverty. Many for whom may never get out. It seems when it comes to Foreign aid and to sending our sons and daughters to war, they can all agree on unanimously, but helping the unemployed, and poor, and disadvantaged, they refuse to help. Now both the Republicans & Democrats have seemingly walked away from the issue, leaving these desperate families to continue struggling on their own. Where is the so called “family values” that the republicans like to claim to represent? They have no “values” or common decency or compassion. They all need to be voted from office in this coming elections. Both political parties should be ashamed of themselves.

    • flyovermark

      The unemployment rate is going DOWN without extending unemployment benefits.

      D’you suppose there might be a connection, sparky?

  • ShadrachSmith

    An amendment to give sitting legislators the right to control political speech. That one is just not going to work out for you, Sparky :-)

  • Shakes Sphere

    While liberty provides principles that guide us toward what the law should be, democratic methods can help determine what the law will be.

  • darrell_b8

    Excuse me…..’The Congress shall make no law…..

  • Amanda E. Connelly

    “The Hobby Lobby ruling hinges on religious freedom, not the First Amendment”… Uh, Eliza? THe first amendment IS what protects our religious freedom, you dolt. It states: 1st amendment: prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, IMPEDING THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

  • No5thDown

    If corporations are not people, how can trade unions be people? I don’t see anything in the language that restricts unions rights of free speech.

  • No5thDown

    “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” wrote Alito. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

  • left wing

    you can not trust those nasty corporations like the AFL-CIO, SEIU, NEA.

  • Jonathan Leibowitz

    As we see in this article, the genomes of blacks are much closer to the genomes of Bonobo chimpanzees than to the genomes of Europeans:

  • don76550

    “Fuels an amendment push?” Only in the fevered pathological minds of the mindless left. Will never happen.

  • flyovermark

    “From Citizens United to Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court majorities continue to extend our basic Constitutional rights — the inalienable rights held by individuals — to corporations,” Markey said in a statement. “Corporations are not people, period.”

    Regardless of whether or not corporations are “people”, where does the first amendment empower the federal government to prohibit religious expression of corporations?

  • Defend Liberty Philly Dude

    Arguably, the regard for responsibility has fallen low enough to undermine the very freedom upon which our prosperity and civilization rest.

  • Jeffrey Bennett

    Courts have recognized certain constitutional rights of corporations for a very long time. It is nothing new, and those who complain about corporations being treated as “people” are ignorant of this history, perhaps willfully so for political reasons. After all, corporations – all corporations – are nothing more than associations of people – shareholders, directors, officers, employees. There’s no reason for people to leave their constitutional rights at the door just because they act in association with others.

    But I was truly stunned that the authors of this article actually wrote that the Hobby Lobby case “hinges on religious freedom, not the First Amendment . . .” as if the former has nothing to do with the latter. This betrays a fundamental ignorance of the Constitution by the authors as well.

  • arjayt

    Eliza Carney, Roll Call, on need for an Amendment on corporate persons: “Senate Democrats’ remedy — to amend the Constitution — is a long shot at best. It would take either two-thirds of each house of Congress or two thirds of state legislatures to even propose such a fix, and three-fourths of the states to ratify it.”

    A good test of where the country might want to go (71 percent polling says it is the wrong direction now) might be an Amendment that allows the congress time to actually work on what are known in Complexity Theory as CAS or complex adaptive systems. The congress actually has created many negative CAS entities simply because it spends so much space-time resources on elections rather than ‘our Posterity’. A good test in the 2014 election might be:

    Amendment XXVIII

    Section 1. In order to maintain Tranquility and Justice within the States, no transfer of funds for the purposes of election to public office will be lawful unless it is within 60 days of the date of the national elections, or when the transfer of funds for a political purpose is made in certified gold or silver bullion from a registered facility within the United States.

    Section 2. The Congress, after Supreme Court advice and consent concerning the rights involved two years before each election, shall have authority to make laws governing the transfer of such monies destined for election purposes.

    So who would submit the appropriate Amendment XXVIII (next in line) to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration BEFORE the next election and who would submit it to each state legislature for referendum consideration? Evan if it didn’t pass the necessary 39 states for ratification by then, at least We The People would know where everyone stands on the demise of democracy BEFORE the next election. But there just might be 39 state legislatures that would jump at the chance of changing the direction of the nation onto a positive path.

Sign In

Forgot password?



Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...