Occupiers go to court

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Photo by Clinton Wang.

Following a march on the city’s federal court building Friday, New Haven’s Occupy protesters may soon receive some affirmation from the Board of Aldermen.

Sixty demonstrators assembled outside the U.S. District Court on Church Street a day before the second anniversary of a Supreme Court decision they said gives corporations too much influence over electoral politics. The demonstration was part of a nationwide “Occupy the Courts” protest Friday criticizing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and labor unions may engage in unlimited political advocacy not involving direct campaign donations, and Occupy protesters are demanding a reversal with the support of an aldermanic resolution sponsored by Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04.

“This is the most egregious [Supreme Court ruling] since Dred Scott,” declared one of the event speakers who identified herself to the crowd as Jennifer. “I personally do not want Verizon electing my next senator.”

With three children in tow at the march, Occupy supporter Billy Bromage said he hopes “Occupy the Courts” brings greater attention to the unjust ruling.

“This [decision] represents a power grab by corporations,” Bromage said. “The one percent is consolidating its political influence.”

Although some policemen greeted protestors and a few passing cars honked in support, most pedestrians seemed to pay little attention to the boisterous crowd. Still, the protest received some notice from within City Hall.

Hausladen submitted a resolution to the Board of Aldermen on the same day as the protest that denounces the ruling and would demand the Connecticut State Legislature to support an opposing constitutional amendment.

Though Hausladen said he has not received feedback on his resolution from his colleagues, he said he had a “strong response” from residents of his ward.

Jorge Perez, Ward 5 alderman and Board president, and Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 said they have not seen the resolution, but they both added that they do not support the Supreme Court ruling.

Daniel Beniak ’11, however, argued in his Percival Wood Clement Prize-winning senior essay that the impact of the Citizens United decision on federal electoral politics has likely been minimal. Citing a history of loopholes in government regulations before the ruling that corporations had successfully exploited to support favored candidates, Beniak said the ruling has not actually enhanced corporate influence over elections.

“I don’t really see how it’s that much of a difference,” Beniak told the News. “The government can’t deliver a one-size-fits-all regulation [to block corporate advocacy].”

When it was first delivered, the ruling drew significant criticism, and lower courts have already begun revolting against the 5-4 decision.

President Barack Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union address that “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

Fifty city councils, including New York and Los Angeles, already support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the ruling, and the Montana Supreme Court and the U.S. Second Court of Appeals have already made contrary rulings, according to U.S. Politics Today.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. voters have heard of the Supreme Court ruling, of which 65 percent believe it has been detrimental, according to a poll earlier this month by the Pew Research Center.

Despite Hausladen’s response to Friday’s protest, New Haven’s Occupy movement is facing new challenges as winter settles in. The movement remains reliant on donations that are currently insufficient, and the protestors still need more blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, hot food and water, said Occupy protester Roger Card III.

Card said 20 to 30 protestors remain from the several hundred occupiers who arrived on its first day, Oct. 15.

At the group’s general assembly on Friday, Card suggested that the group was not completely unified. “It could be a bit better. I get a little discouraged at times.”

Sanders said he wants to concentrate on making sure the camp lasts through the winter, and anticipates renewed activism and support in the spring.

Despite the group’s troubles, Bromage said he believes Occupy remains a “really powerful movement,” with a huge Internet presence and many sympathizers backing its less substantial physical presence.

As of early January, city officials estimated that the city has spent over $60,000 since October in overtime compensation for police officers ensuring the safety of the Occupy encampent on the New Haven Green.

Correction Jan. 24, 2012

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the ruling in the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. It held that unlimited independent express advocacy by corporations and unions is constitutional, but campaign donations of this kind may not be coordinated.

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