Ten years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the free speech portion of the First Amendment, declaring in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster. The decision has been under constant attack by Democrats ever since.
The 5-4 Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the FEC barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.
In Citizens United, the late Justice Antonin Scalia succinctly wrote: “The (First) Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is ‘speech’ covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise. A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate is core political speech, and its nature as such does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the ‘inherent worth of the speech’ and ‘its capacity for informing the public,’ … Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy.”
But Democrats have wheeled out a proposal to amend the Bill of Rights to exclude certain free speech because it is paid for by people with money. It is wrongly called the Democracy for All Amendment.
Every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — has signed on as sponsors of the proposed amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”
Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release this past summer saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”
Pay no attention to the fact spending alone does not necessarily determine the outcome of an election. President Trump was outspent two-to-one by the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”
Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’
Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations that’s who.
In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”
Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Earlier this past year the House Democrats got into the act by putting forward the 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” which, along with other things, would require increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers. It is co-sponsored by all three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.
Citizens United actually left in place certain financial disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold. In fact, this prompted Justice Clarence Thomas to write a dissent in which he observed that disclosure requirements have spawned a cottage industry that uses donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree.
Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”
The Founders frequently engaged in anonymous speech and protected it with the First Amendment. The Federalist Papers were penned under pseudonyms.
It’s not just the Democrats in Washington who want to gag free speech. In 2017 the Democrats in Carson City horned in on the act, pushing Senate Joint Resolution 4, urging Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. It was sponsored by Las Vegas Democratic state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro.
The summary of SJR4 read: “Urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to allow the reasonable regulation of political contributions and expenditures by corporations, unions and individuals to protect the integrity of elections and the equal right of all Americans to effective representation.”
It may as well have read: “Democracy is dead because the citizens of the United States are too stupid to hear vigorous debate and make rational decisions.”
The resolution passed both the Assembly and state Senate with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.
The fight for free speech never ends.