Two of the three branches of government for this country continue to plot against the third.
Since the Supreme Court’s January 2010 Citizens United decision, members of Congress and the president have assailed the third, co-equal branch, of America’s government.
First Amendment? Uh, whats that one do?
First Amendment? Uh, what’s that one do?
Congressman John Yarmuth, a two-term Democrat from Kentucky, said in a radio interview on April 16 that he will be introducing a congressional resolution condemning the Supreme Court for rendering its opinion.
Citizens United restored free speech unto corporations and unions, which were threatened by criminal and civil penalties under the discredited McCain-Feingold law.
Ironically, Yarmuth is a former publisher of LEO, an alternative and free publication of Louisville. One would like to expect a former publisher to be in favor of free speech.
Oh, that’s right, Yarmuth and his fellow Democratic members are only in favor of free speech for those persons and entities who agree with their political philosophy.
Yarmuth said that Congressman Chris Van Hollen, (D-Maryland) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) will be introducing legislation to circumvent the decision.
In protesting Citizens United, Yarmuth repeated the mantra of the left that it “overturned 100 years of precedent.” The decision did no such thing.
Such a claim indicates that Yarmuth didn’t bother reading the decision, something Congress is increasingly using as a tool of its trade. Read legislation before voting? What foolishness. Read a Supreme Court decision before condemning it? Utter lunacy.
What Citizens United did was to uphold a hundred years of decisions. Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the opinion, cited numerous prior court decisions on free speech, including the 1926 decision of Connally v. General Construction. The Connally decision decried vaguely worded legislation. “People of common intelligence must necessarily guess at (the law’s) meaning and differ as to its application.”
Kennedy went on to write: “The Government may not render a ban on political speech constitutional by carving out a limited exemption through an amorphous regulatory interpretation.”
The majority opinion also relied on the seminal decision of New York Times Co., vs. Sullivan, which proclaimed that the Court “must give the benefit of any doubt to protecting rather than stifling speech.”
As noted in the decision, McCain-Feingold was an outright ban on political speech and was 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.”
Kennedy offered real examples of speech that could be banned under McCain-Feingold. “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,” Kennedy noted.
In the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, Congress prohibited corporations and unions from making independent expenditures for political campaigns. After his veto of the 1947 law, President Truman warned that the ban was a “dangerous intrusion on free speech.”
Other precedents cited in Kennedy’s opinion demonstrate Yarmuth’s historical ignorance. In citing the 1978 case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, Kennedy said the Court reaffirmed First Amendment principles that the government cannot restrict political speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity.
Kennedy liberally quoted from Bellotti in his opinion. “In the realm of protected speech, the legislature is constitutionally disqualified from dictating the subjects about which persons may speak and the speakers who may address a public issue.”
If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.
Political speech is indispensable in a democracy whether the speech comes from a corporation or an individual.
The rule that political speech cannot be limited based on a speaker’s wealth is a necessary consequence of the premise that the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity.
Yarmuth used a great deal of his own money to gain election in 2006 in defeating his incumbent Republican opponent. Under Yarmuth’s logic, or lack thereof, he should have been prosecuted under McCain-Feingold, because his income was derived from corporations he owned and thus, indirectly, his corporations engaged in spending on his behalf.
No, Yarmuth didn’t read Citizens United any more than he read the 2,000-plus page health insurance reform legislation.
One must wonder if he has ever read the Constitution.