Many people on the political left don’t much like the First Amendment. That seems odd to someone of my generation. In past times people who suppressed what the Supreme Court ultimately ruled speech—student armbands, nude dancing, flag burning—were usually conservatives. But now it seems that it’s mostly liberals who want to shut down speech that offends them, and it’s usually political speech which many people think was the main concern of the Founders rather than the kinds of speech referenced above.
Anyway, here are some examples of liberals trying to shut down speech.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Chris Murphy have proposed a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which Barack Obama lamented in one of his State of the Union addresses, by denying constitutional rights to corporations. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in his Volokh Conspiracy blog, that would pretty much wipe out freedom of the press and some other freedoms as well.
“So goodbye, First Amendment protection for the New York Times, CNN, the ACLU, the NRA, and the Catholic Church. Goodbye, any right to just compensation when a corporation’s property is taken — whether the corporation is a large business or a small mom-and-pop company. Goodbye, any rights to due process when a corporation’s property is seized. Goodbye, any protection for corporations (again, even small family-run businesses) from unreasonable searches and seizures, or excessive fines. That’s what Senators Tester and Murphy’s amendment calls for.”
As Sen. Mitch McConnell has said, this is “an absurd proposal” that “won’t go anywhere.” But it’s still amazing that two Democratic senators want to gut the First Amendment and other amendments as well. Here’s a text of his speech Friday at the American Enterprise Institute, where I am a resident fellow, and here is the audio.
In his Best of the Web column the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has criticized Sen. Clair McCaskill for putting a hold on the promotion of Air Force Gen. Susan Helms because Helms overturned the verdict of a court martial in a sexual harassment case. In response the Ms. Foundation for Women—well, I’ll let Taranto tell the story:
“Meanwhile, the Ms. Foundation for Women, in cooperation with an outfit called the Service Women’s Action Network, has started an online petition ‘calling for the disciplining of’ your humble columnist, whom they graciously describe as ‘prominent.’ They find no fault with our account of the facts; they complain only of our “framing the campaign as a ‘war on men’ ” and of a few phrases they find neuralgic.
“That is to say, they want a journalist to be punished for committing journalism–for accurately reporting the news and expressing an opinion contrary to feminist orthodoxy. It is a lovely example of the totalitarian mindset that is the core of contemporary feminism.”
In a Newsweek/Daily Beast article on how the Obama administration has been losing cases in the Supreme Court, Adam Winkler writes:
“On Thursday the administration lost another big case, Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society. The administration was defending a federal law requiring certain recipients of federal international aid to have an explicit policy against sex trafficking. Garnering only two favorable votes, the administration saw the law held unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment.”
Then there’s the Justice Department and Education Department’s ukase, discussed here by the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.), that attempts to force colleges and universities to treat as sexual harassment any language that strikes someone as offensive (rather than requiring it to be offensive by an objective standard) and convicting students based on a preponderance of the evidence (rather than a tougher standard like beyond a reasonable doubt). So anyone on campus who wants to allege offense can decide what speech is allowed.
When I was young students going off to college left communities where speech was informally but fairly tightly regulated for a campus where free inquiry was allowed. Those days are gone.