June 02, 2014
Another Democratic Attack On Freedom Of Speech

The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Many politicians, especially incumbents, have found these prohibitions inconvenient, and have made all kinds of laws limiting political speech, sometimes the speech of unpopular minorities, and, in recent years, often the speech of their political opponents.   Sometimes our Supreme Court — to its shame — has accepted these limits.  But anyone who genuinely believes in freedom of speech will be pleased that, in recent years, notably in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court has begun to undo some of the damage.

Incumbents, especially incumbent Democrats, are unhappy with this shift back toward freedom of speech — even for their opponents.  So unhappy that a group of Senate Democrats, led by New Mexico's Tom Udall, have introduced a proposed amendment, an amendment which would repeal much of the 1st Amendment.

Here is the text of the proposed amendment:

SECTION 1. To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on--

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

SECTION 2. To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, each State shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to State elections, including through setting limits on--

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, State office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

SECTION 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

SECTION 4. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3 gives the Democrats' game away; by explicitly protecting those who own large news organizations, the sponsors implicitly concede that they are stripping away 1st Amendment protections from all the rest of us.  (An earlier version of the proposed amendment did not even protect large news organizations.)

If Congress and our other legislatures have that unlimited power over campaign expenditures, they can prevent effective campaigning in all except the smallest constituencies.

As I read that, if the amendment passed, it would be entirely constitutional for them to shut down everything from the Republican National Committee to my modest web site — if we spent too much money.  And our incumbent legislators would be the ones who determine what "too much" was.

For more, and some examples that should frighten you, read Senator Ted Cruz's superb op-ed.

At this stage, the proposed amendment is mostly a fund-raising and propaganda device.   But I believe that Udall, and the other Democrats sponsoring this amendment, would pass these limitations on political speech — if they had the power.

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

Posted by Jim Miller at June 02, 2014 03:02 PM | Email This