Share

Opinion: Columnists

Senate Democrats' dangerous political stunt: Repealing the First Amendment

By |
Opinion,Congress,David Freddoso,Columnists,Senate,Campaign Finance,Campaigns,First Amendment,Freedom of Speech

On Tuesday, several Democrats spoke out in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in support of changing the U.S. Constitution in order to weaken or destroy First Amendment protections we take for granted.

No, that's not a joke, nor is it an exaggeration. Forty Senate Democrats and two independents are now co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., which would grant the Congress plenary power to regulate political campaign speech, depending on what a bare majority of its members may deem proper at any given time. Renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams -- not known for his conservatism -- said in his testimony on Tuesday that the Udall amendment "would limit speech that is at the heart of the First Amendment."

If Udall's amendment passes, the traditional fallback of the First Amendment, which now allows us to laugh comfortably at the notion of political speech codes, will no longer be there to protect those of us who are not journalists.

At Tuesday's hearing, Democrats talked about their constitutional amendment as if it would merely rein in corporations or billionaires. It does no such thing. It confers a new and almost unlimited power upon Congress to restrict anyone's freedom in the name of regulating campaign finance. There is no mention of billionaires.

Will Congress abuse its power if constitutional constraints are removed? The question almost answers itself. Libertarian journalist Radley Balko captured the campaign finance zealots' mindset perfectly when he wrote: “Congress is inherently corrupt. Therefore, we need a constitutional amendment to ensure that Congress writes the rules for our elections.”

No more ads that mention candidates' names? Sure, if you can just get a majority in Congress to pass a law. No campaign expenditures by anyone other than candidates? Just get the votes. No books or made-for TV movies that are critical of candidates during an election year? No television ads with people wearing red hats, under penalty of imprisonment? It may sound crazy, but this would all be on the table.

The only restriction on Congress that Udall's amendment preserves is the one exempting the press. And even that is just the exception that proves the rule. If the news media have to be carved out this way, it is only because the Udall amendment is a threat to everyone else's First Amendment rights.

The media exemption also offers a hint of where the next campaign finance loopholes will appear. In a post-Udall world, when hundreds of “newspapers” spring up ahead of big elections to promote individual candidates, the campaign finance zealots will argue for yet another constitutional amendment to finish the job by regulating press freedom.

That's one angle from which to look at it, and probably the most important. But here's another: This frivolous Udall measure, which has no chance of passing the Senate with the required two-thirds vote, and even less chance of being ratified by the states, has been jammed into the Senate committee schedule and placed on the fast track to a Senate floor vote by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

At the same moment as this measure is being rushed through, Senate Democrats have placed a hold on a bipartisan bill that would allow the president to clean house and end the callous mistreatment of sick veterans at the Department of Veterans' Affairs. They have refused to allow a clean vote on building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would create thousands of jobs and help America's energy resources create more wealth for investment back into our economy. They have dragged their feet on repealing Obamacare's medical device tax, even though 79 of 100 senators are on the record supporting its repeal.

This week's hearing demonstrated that even if Senate Democratic leaders don't have time for these things, they do have time to show contempt for Americans' freedoms in the service of a political stunt to excite the campaign finance zealots in their voter base.

And it will backfire. No matter what happens, their amendment cannot become law fast enough save them from the consequences of the vote they are about to take voluntarily to repeal the First Amendment.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
View article comments Leave a comment