Jan. 22, 2010
The First Amendment is a little stronger now. In a 5-4 decision announced today, the Supreme Court struck down another portion of McCain-Feingold, specifically the ban on corporate and union-funded issue ads in the closing days of an election. Even better, the Supremes also overruled a 20 year old ruling that banned corporate and labor money from funding any political campaign ads.
Finally, the Supreme Court displayed some sanity when interpreting the first Amendment. (Well, five justices, at least.)
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the main opinion, which reads in part that there is “no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures.”
“There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers,” he wrote. “The government may regulate corporate speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”
This should be obvious. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” What part about “Congress shall make no law” don’t the other justices understand? How can a Congressional ban on political speech, regardless of who pays for the printing press or ad space, especially when it’s close to an election, make no “abridgment” upon the people’s freedom of speech?
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent:
“The notion that the First Amendment dictated [today's ruling] is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided … In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.”
In Justice Stevens’ worldview, groups have fewer rights than individuals. Government can pass laws affecting groups, but that same group does not enjoy the freedom to speak out against that action during an election campaign? That doesn’t make sense.
“The Court has finally struck down blatant censorship that masquerades as campaign finance reform. Slowly but surely, the Court is prying Americans’ free speech rights away from the hands of government bureaucrats.”
Justice Kennedy’s opinion says it all:
“When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful … The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”