Reid Pushes Senate Resolution That Would Abridge Free Speech

By:  Warren Mass
Reid Pushes Senate Resolution That Would Abridge Free Speech

Forty-three senators have co-sponsored S.J. Res. 19, which proposes an amendment to the Constitution “relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (shown in photo, D-Nev.) recently said of the resolution, “We’re going to push a constitutional amendment so we can limit spending because what is going on today is awful.”

Originally introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) — and in the House by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) — the joint resolution would give Congress (and also the states) the power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents for Federal elections, including setting limits on

(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for Federal office; and

(2) the amount of funds that may be spent in support of, or in opposition to, these candidates.

What should be readily apparent to anyone studying the resolution is that contributing funds to candidates to public office is akin to verbally supporting those candidates, since most campaign money is spent on ads, commercials, and campaign literature that exercises the candidates’ (and the candidates’ supporters’) right to freedom of speech. So by attempting to limit such spending, if the resolution and subsequent constitutional amendment were to be passed, any legislation passed by Congress to regulate campaign spending would represent a blatant attack on free speech. This would amount to a direct violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech….”

In “Amending the First Amendment,” a commentary on S.J. Res. 19 posted on June 9, law professor, legal scholar, and prolific law textbook author Ronald D. Rotunda marvels at the audacity of those who think they can “improve” the First Amendment with such a proposal. Rotunda observes,

S.J. Res. 19 would give political speech less protection than the First Amendment now gives to movies, novels, comic books and Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois.

Rotunda provides a possible motivation for what impelled 43 senators to support this attack on free speech:

Many of the supporters of S.J. Res. 19 were incensed that the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment right of Citizens United (an organization with political views contrary to those of Michael Moore) to distribute its 90-minute documentary, called Hillary: the Movie. One movie was an attack on George W. Bush; the other was an attack on Hillary Clinton. Both are constitutionally protected, until S.J. Res. 19 becomes law. 

Professor Rotunda then continues to explain just how bad the resolution is:

Section 3 of S.J. Res. 19 makes clear that its intention is to limit free speech. It says, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” The First Amendment prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Tellingly, the Senators cosponsoring the “improved First Amendment” left out the phrase “freedom of speech.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Photo of Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.): AP Images

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