Paul Greenberg

Let us now hear from the sage Mr. Dooley, the fictive Irish barkeep who from time to time commented on American politics and society at the turn of another century. Whether the Constitution follows the flag, he observed about a case concerning constitutional rights in newly acquired territories, the "supreme coort follows th' iliction returns."

In this case, buttressed by the support of two recent appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the court decided that the First Amendment means what it says. It took a while for the court to reverse its original, ill-advised approval of these restrictions on free speech, but it finally has done so.

You can hear freedom ring in the yelps of those who would like to limit corporate and union spending to only their campaigns. Barack Obama, for example. The president immediately denounced the decision as having given "a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics."

This great populist from Goldman Sachs -- its employees contributed $995,000 to his presidential campaign -- doubtless would like to see the old stampede of special-interest money continue to flood his campaign coffers. Indeed, his definition of a special interest doesn't seem to include the labor unions that donated all that money and all those workers to his presidential campaign. Hypocrisy, thy name is Campaign Finance Reform.

The issues in this case were so clear that even Justice Kennedy, the swing vote on the court, delivered a clear decision for once, calling censorship censorship. And striking it down in this 5-to-4 ruling.

Call it a victory for freedom for now, since freedom is always at risk every time the judiciary is reshaped. Which is why judicial appointments are so important, even all-important on occasions like this.

Let it be noted that the court did uphold laws that require campaign contributions to be revealed at Internet speed, which is the best protection for the public's right to know. Rather than restrict freedom of speech by law, it is better to rely on freedom of the press to keep the political process open.

As always, it will be up to a free and enterprising press to follow the money trail and tell the public just where it leads. For the First Amendment is all of a piece. Freedom of the press is a necessary adjunct to freedom of speech, and vice versa. Each can keep the other vigorous, exposed and honest. Much to the benefit of a free people.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.