Bold Strategies for Achieving Political Equality through a New Supreme Court [Voter Pick]

Bold Strategies for Achieving Political Equality through a New Supreme Court [Voter Pick]

Session Type(s): Panel

Starts: Friday, Jul. 15 2:00 PM (Eastern)

Ends: Friday, Jul. 15 3:15 PM (Eastern)

The unexpected death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia has opened a rare window of opportunity to undo perhaps the most despised Supreme Court decision of the modern era: Citizens United. With a new 4-4 divide on the high court, and with the hope of a progressive court majority in 2016 or early 2017, the time to chart a course for reversing Citizens United and its doctrinal predecessor, Buckley v. Valeo, has finally arrived. It’s time for campaign finance and corporate power reformers to move from defense to offense, and to heed a new call to redeem the promise of American democracy.



John Bonifaz

John Bonifaz

John Bonifaz is the Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People, a national campaign that works to renew our democracy and our United States Constitution for we the people, not big money and corporate interests. Free Speech For People catalyzes and advances the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo rulings and the fabrication of corporate constitutional rights, and the campaign engages in legal advocacy to confront the doctrines underlying the Citizens United and Buckley decisions.

John Bonifaz previously served as the executive director and general counsel of the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI), an organization he founded in 1994. Mr. Bonifaz also previously served as the legal director of Voter Action, a national election integrity organization.

Mr. Bonifaz has been at the forefront of key voting rights battles in the United States for more than two decades: pioneering a series of court challenges, applying political equality principles, that have helped to redefine the campaign finance question as a basic voting rights issue of our time; initiating and leading a legal strategy for revisiting Buckley v. Valeo in the courts; leading the fight in the federal courts in Ohio for a recount of the 2004 presidential vote in that state; and prevailing in federal court in Pennsylvania on the eve of the 2008 election in an emergency paper ballot case. He is the co-author with American University Law Professor Jamin B. Raskin of two seminal law review articles (Yale Law & Policy Review-1993 and Columbia Law Review-1994) and of The Wealth Primary: Campaign Fundraising and the Constitution, published by the Center for Responsive Politics in 1994, all of which argue that the current campaign finance system violates the Equal Protection rights of non-wealthy candidates and voters.

In addition to his work in the field of voting rights and democracy advocacy, Mr. Bonifaz served as lead counsel in 2003 in a federal court case brought on the eve of the Iraq War against then-President George W. Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, which challenged the military invasion as illegal under the War Powers Clause of the US Constitution. He is the author of Warrior-King, published by Nation Books in 2004 with a foreword by Congressman John Conyers, Jr., which chronicles the case and its implications for our Constitution. Mr. Bonifaz has also served as co-counsel in international human rights and environmental litigation, including litigation to hold the Chevron-Texaco oil company accountable for its widespread destruction of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

From January through September 2006, Mr. Bonifaz ran as a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts Secretary of State, garnering nearly 130,000 votes in a primary fight against a 12-year incumbent.

Mr. Bonifaz is a 1992 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a 1999 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He has written and spoken extensively across the country on pressing democracy and voting rights issues facing the nation today.

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Spencer Overton

Spencer Overton is the fourth President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  The Joint Center–founded in 1970 as a think tank to support black elected officials–faced a fiscal crisis when Spencer became the leader in early 2014. Spencer spent 18 months resolving these challenges. The Joint Center is now debt-free and growing, and under Spencer’s leadership has restarted programming. The Joint Center now supports innovative elected officials and policy experts who serve communities of color. Click here for an overview of recent Joint Center activities.

Spencer is also a tenured Professor of Law at George Washington University, where he teaches and writes on voting rights and campaign finance. He is the author of the book Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression and several academic and popular articles on campaign finance, including Matching Political Contributions, Minnesota Law Review (2012); The Participation Interest, Georgetown Law Journal (2012); But Some are More Equal: Race, Exclusion, and Campaign Finance, Texas Law Review (2002); Racial Disparities and the Political Function of Property, UCLA Law Review (2002); Voices from the Past: Race, Privilege, and Campaign Finance, North Carolina Law Review (2001); Fannie Lou Hamer Wouldn’t Like This, Los Angeles Times (Mar. 29, 2001); and Reform for the Rest of America, Washington Post (May 10, 2001).

Spencer has worked on campaign finance in various capacities. He served as a board member of the Center for Responsive Politics, Common Cause, Demos, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project (founding board member), and the National Voting Rights Institute. During the 2008 Obama campaign he chaired government reform policy, and during the first term of the Administration Spencer served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy, where he partnered with White House officials to lead the Administration’s policy efforts related to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Spencer held several leadership roles on the 2012 Obama National Finance Committee, including teaching fundraising at Obama University and chairing a fundraising program that raised $25 million.

Spencer graduated with honors from both Hampton University and Harvard Law School, and he clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith.

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout grew up in a farming community just a few hours from Dutchess County, where she lives. She is a national leader, speaking up against the corruption of our political system by special interests and big corporations. Just before running for Congress she was even writing a book about the small business economy.

For her entire career Zephyr has been fighting for people who have been shut out– and gotten results. She was the first National Director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization that works to make Congress more open and transparent. After the crash of 2008, she helped start an organization to break up big banks who had become “too big to fail” and have damaged our small businesses.

Zephyr is a reform-minded leader who has never been afraid of standing up to powerful special interests and the political establishment, even members of her own party. In 2014, she ran against the Governor because of the corruption in Albany. Her grassroots campaign shocked political insiders when she garnered 35% of the vote, including majorities across the counties that make up NY-19.

Other sessions: How the Next President Can Bust Up Big Corporations

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