The Senate majority leader and minority leader went head to head this week with testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on a proposed constitutional amendment that would usurp the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid testified for the amendment and Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell testified against it.
Here is a little compare-and-contrast from their prepared texts, from which they varied a bit in oral delivery:
Reid: “I am here because the flood of dark money into our nation’s political system poses the greatest threat to our democracy that I have witnessed during my time in public service. The decisions by the Supreme Court have left the American people with a status quo in which one side’s billionaires are pitted against the other side’s billionaires.”
McConnell: “Benjamin Franklin noted that ‘whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.‘ The First Amendment is the constitutional guarantee of that freedom, and it has never been amended.”
Reid: “So we sit here today faced with a simple choice: We can keep the status quo and argue all day about whose billionaires are right – or, we can work together to change the system, to get this shady money out of our democracy and restore the basic principle of one American, one vote.”
McConnell: “It would empower incumbent politicians in Congress and in the states to write the rules on who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And the American people should be concerned — and many are already — that those in power would use this extraordinary authority to suppress speech that is critical of them.”
The amendment says that Congress and the states “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 the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”
Might that limit very be zero? No dollars? Why not? Or raise the limit drastically if that favored their side? Wouldn’t put it past them. They’d’ve favored a limit on the number of copies of “Common Sense” allowed to be printed and force Thomas Paine to put his name on it, instead of printing it anonymously to avoid being hanged. Such are the origins of the rights of free speech and press.
Reid: “They defend the money pumped into our system by the Koch brothers and others as ‘free speech.’ This constitutional amendment is about restoring freedom of speech to all Americans.”
Well, perhaps not all, as McConnell explains: “Not only would S.J. Res. 19 allow the government to favor certain speakers over others, it would guarantee such preferential treatment. It contains a provision, not found in prior proposals, which expressly provides that Congress cannot ‘abridge the freedom of the press.’ That’s great if you’re in the business of buying ink by the barrel; it’s not so great for everyone else. The media wins and everyone else loses.”
In the First Amendment both speech and press shall not be abridged by Congress. This was applied to the states by the 14th Amendment prohibition against the states taking away fundamental rights. But S.J. 19 says Congress may not abridge the free press but there is no prohibition against the states doing so.
McConnell pointed out that the amendment is unlikely to ever pass, but is being put forward as a political ploy: “Now, everyone on this Committee knows this proposal will never pass Congress. This is a political exercise.
“The goal here is to stir up one party’s political base so they’ll show up in November by complaining loudly about certain Americans exercising their free speech and associational rights, while being perfectly happy that other Americans — those who agree with the sponsors of this amendment — are doing the same thing.
“But the political nature of this exercise should not obscure how shockingly bad this proposal is.”