The reaction to Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of “Hillary: The Movie” is stark in its contrast.
Predictably The New York Times lamented the ruling freeing corporations and unions to freely spend money on political messages at any time.
“The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights,” Times editorialists proclaimed. “It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.”
It takes The Wall Street Journal editorialists to point out the hypocrisy of that argument.
“The Court’s opinion is especially effective in dismantling McCain-Feingold’s arbitrary exemption for media corporations,” the WSJ editorial points out. “Thus a corporation that owns a newspaper — News Corp. or the New York Times — retains its First Amendment right to speak freely. ‘At the same time, some other corporation, with an identical business interest but no media outlet in its ownership structure, would be forbidden to speak or inform the public about the same issue,’ wrote Justice Kennedy. ‘This differential treatment cannot be squared with the First Amendment.’”
There is no rationale for exempting the news media from restrictions any more than an argument could be made that news media corporations could have their free speech and press rights abridged simply because they are operated by corporations.
Censorship of a message because of it content or its advocate is unconstitutional on its face.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-4 ruling, spells this out in no uncertain terms.
“The law before us is an outright ban, backed by criminal sanctions. Section 441b makes it a felony for all corporations — including nonprofit advocacy corporations — either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election,” he writes. “Thus, the following acts would all be felonies under §441b: The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech. These prohibitions are classic examples of censorship.”
Even President Obama railed against the ruling in his usual populist paean against all things profitable. He called the decision a victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and other powerful interests, saying the ruling will lead to a “stampede of special interest money in our politics.” The AP said he pledged to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to come up with a “forceful response” to the high court’s action.
Free speech is meant to give all citizens access to every viewpoint available. Just because a union or a corporation is an assemblage of people pooling their resources to make their message more loudly and frequently heard does not make that message automatically inferior and unworthy of dissemination. The citizens, the voters are perfectly capable of rejecting a bogus argument no matter how much money is spent on it.
The Timesmen make no bones about the reason for their disdain of this decision. First, they compare this ruling their favorite strawman, Gore v. Bush, which they still insist robbed Gore of the election though every recount of the “uncounted” ballots has shown Bush the winner.
“With one 5-to-4 decision, the court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president,” the editorial claims. “Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.”
It is not the so-called corruption of the process they oppose, but who is advantaged, in their view.
Here is a trailer for the movie the McCain-Feingold Act said you could not watch, because you are too stupid to figure out it is a hit piece from an evil corporation out to steal the country and your soul: