16 April, 2010

Rep. Ron Kind, Citizens United, and Free Speech

Congressman Ron Kind (D, WI-3), in a recent townhall meeting, commented on the recent US Supreme Court Decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. As you would expect, he's not a fan of the ruling. However, he appears to be resigned to the notion that it will now be difficult to reverse. Why, you may ask?

His words:
Thanks to that pesky First Amendment, we probably won’t be able to overturn that decision.
Big Journalism: Elected Officials, ‘That Pesky First Amendment’ and All That Jazz

Ah, yes. That pesky First Amendment. The one that opens with the words "Congress Shall Make No Law..." If only we could get rid of it, things would be so much better. We could tell people what to think, what they should read and listen to, we could prohibit people from protesting, heck we could even ban books and movies if we didn't approve of their message (as the current Administration did, in fact, argue before the Supreme Court -- saying that the Election Finance laws gave the government the power to ban the publication of books that violated McCain-Feingold's provisions).

Sorry, but I find this attitude appalling. It smacks of a mindset that says "Freedom for me, but not for thee." The First Amendment was written not to protect popular speech or speech that those in authority want you to hear, but the unpopular ones as well. Look at the wording of the Amendment itself:

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.

There should be no question that Free Speech was violated in this instance because, simply, Congress did in fact make a law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". That there has been a century or more of accumulated jurisprudence differentiating rights of the individual versus the rights of a collection of individuals (i.e., Corporations) should make absolutely no difference in this case, because the argument stops at "Congress shall make no law...". This should be Constitution 101, the most basic and fundamental reading of the framer's intent.

Rep. Kind apparently doesn't agree, for I can think of no other reason why he should answer his constituents so. Rep. Kind is apparently of the school of thought that believes the Constitution does not mean exactly what it says, and that its interpretation is fluid and should change to suit whatever the current fancy is. Well, sorry if I don't agree with you here, Mr. Kind. So far as I am concerned, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was a long overdue reversal of a trend towards creeping limitations on Free Speech -- whether it be speech by the individual or by a band of individuals, it should make no difference. What I believe Mr. Kind is really objecting to is the notion that there should be any freedom of expression granted to the opposition at all. It is the notion that people should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds, that they should be allowed to choose for themselves who they will or will not listen to, that Mr. Kind is in essence really objecting to.

I would also further argue that the First Amendment already specifically bans limitations on Free Speech by corporations, right there in the Amendment itself. Look at the wording: the Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from making laws "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". "The Press" has always been a corporate entity, rarely the product of one person and one person only, since long before the Constitution was even written. Citizens United was, and still is, a modern version of "The Press" -- being a group that used movies rather than the printed page to express its views, which the courts have long held constituted a "press". Again, I see no getting around the first few words of the Amendment; Congress did in fact pass a law, and this law did in fact limit the press. End of argument.

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