Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Congress moves to repeal the First Amendment's free speech protection.

This is not a joke or some rumor spread on Facebook or a distortion.  Congress really has taken a big step to repeal part of the first amendment. You may have not heard of this because the mainstream media is completely ignoring it.  Today the Senate voted 79-18 to advance the bill. It was a vote on “cloture”, which means to end debate so that an up-or-down vote can be taken.  Here is the text of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.    
Section 2.Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.          
Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press. 
What is behind this is an attempt by Democrats to over turn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. In Citizens United the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations. That ruling also extents the  freedom to labor unions and other associations.

In 2002 Congress had passed the McCain-Feingold Act which prohibited corporation, including non-profit corporations, from making independent expenditures on "electioneering communications" which was defined as communications which mentions a candidate by name within 90 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary. In 2008 Citizens United, a 501(c)4 conservative group, wanted to air a documentary, Hillary, that was critical of  Hillary Clinton and they wanted to advertise the film during television broadcasts within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primaries. They were prohibited from doing so by the Federal Election Commission. Citizens United took the case to court and lost and appealed the lower court decision against them to the Supreme Court and won.

Most liberals think this was a terrible ruling and corporations should be prohibited from engaging in political speech. To critique the Supreme Court's decision they frame the issue as the court having said corporation are people and have the same rights as people.

One of the arguments made by attorneys for Citizens United is that a Michael Moore documentary showing at the time, Fahrenheit 9/11, also was political speech.  Fahrenheit 9/11 wove various conspiracy theories involving George W. Bush and alleged he had ties to the Taliban and advanced the theory that 9-11 was an inside job. The documentary also expressly advocated the defeat of President Bush. The Federal Election Commission had found some distinction that permitted the showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 but not Hillary. Justices seemed to be persuaded that if one could be banned, so could the other. Justices pondered if under McCain-Feingold the FEC had the power to ban books if they advocated defeat of a candidate and were distributed by a corporation or a Union. Most books are published by corporations. If you get a downloaded book on Kindle then that is being distributed by a corporation.  If people have First Amendment rights but the government can ban speech by corporations, then the First Amendment is a pretty empty right.

The Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to ban free speech by limiting of independent communications by corporations, associations, and unions, and that corporations and labor unions may spend their own money to support or oppose political candidates through independent communications. The ruling did not permit corporation to contribute to political campaigns or do a lot of other things people have claimed the ruling did.

For those who don't know what it says, here is the First Amendment:
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.
The proposed amendment would repeal the freedom of speech protections guaranteed in the First Amendment. Section two of the proposed amendment would allow the government to abridge freedom of speech if that speech was distributed by corporation.  Section 3 is meaningless because if only individuals and not corporations have Freedom of the Press, then the government could shut down newspapers if they were corporate owned, as most are.

The proposed amendment probably will not go far.  It would have to pass both houses of Congress and would have to go before the people and be approved by 3/4 of the states. I don't think there is any way the House of Representatives will pass this bill as long as Republicans hold the majority. Still, it is frightening. Many politicians will want to say they voted for campaign finance reform and they voted to "take the money out of politics." Many people will be persuaded by the argument that "corporations are not people" and they will see it as a way to defeat the Koch brothers. For a public of low-information voters who get their news from the Colbert Report and SNL and have not been grounded in an understanding of the founding principles of our County, this may have appeal. I don't have the faith in the wisdom of the American people that I once had.
We can expect the Democrat Party and various progressive groups to push hard to get this bill passed. I will not be surprised if a memorializing resolution is not passed by our own Metro Council urging passage of the bill.  MoveOn is already mobilizing their forces to promote the amendment and using it to raise money. In an email received today MoveOn says:
Wow—this is huge. Last night, the Senate voted 79-18 to advance a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The next step is a vote Thursday.
We're getting ready to launch a huge accountability campaign, going after senators who vote the wrong way. wrong way. And we won't stop until Citizens United is repealed.
This is momentous. It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity. 
It's nothing short of amazing that Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans didn't block this entirely—as they've done with nearly every other priority issue of most Americans, like the minimum wage and student debt. 
We've built enough grassroots pressure that they couldn't squash this. McConnell is trying to make lemonade out of this—he claims that he welcomes the debate. But 80 percent of American oppose Citizens United.
It seems as if America is going down the tubes right before our eyes.  Many people see rights as simply impediments to the popular will. This is a bold move to substantially remake America.  May God help us preserve our Republic.
Check back for a report on how our Senators and Representatives voted.

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  1. your boy lamar voted yes - wonder why.

  2. Rod, Corker and Alexander both voted yes: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=113&session=2&vote=00259