Monday February 25, 2013

Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, triggered a controversy while campaigning in Pittsfield last Tuesday when he drew an analogy between the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on campaign finance law three years ago and the court’s ruling in favor of slavery in the 19th century. Political controversies are always inevitable, but the ultimate fate of the campaign finance decision is of more significance.

Speaking at the city campaign rally, Representative Markey expressed his support for the movement to overturn Citizens United through a constitutional amendment. The 2010 decision opened the floodgates for third-party spending in political campaigns and triggered the creation of the so-called superPACs in which rich donors dominated the airwaves with false and misleading advertising in 2012.

In urging that amendment, Mr. Markey declared "The Dred Scott decision had to be repealed; we have to repeal Citizens United." The high court’s Dred Scott ruling in 1857 said blacks did not have the rights of U.S. citizens, and in so doing, upheld slavery. The Union victory in the Civil War led to the 13th amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, and three years later, to the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to African-Americans.

A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it was "ridiculous and offensive" to compare the Citizens United decision to Dred Scott, and Stephen Lynch, Mr. Markey’s Democratic opponent in the primary, also criticized him. According to The Boston Globe, African-American leaders in Boston and Springfield have expressed varying degrees of disappointment with the analogy drawn by Mr. Markey.

Dred Scott is the worst decision the Supreme Court has made in the nation’s history, and Citizens United pales in comparison. Mr. Markey did not appear to be saying in Pittsfield that the decisions are equally bad, only that they require equal treatment -- reversal through the process of constitutional amendment.

The Eagle supports that amendment, and Representative Lynch does as well. What will be significant after this tempest has subsided is how the Republican candidate or candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat feel about Citizens United and the proposal to overturn it.