If Congress outlawed “outside groups” (associations other than the candidate’s campaign committee) from spending any money to publicize the name and track record of incumbents, it would become, instead of a gross violation of the First Amendment, an enforceable and lawful regulation.
Our brand new First Amendment would not contain a single word of restraint regarding the regulation of political speech. Instead, powerful congressional incumbents would wield complete and total control over all money to be raised and spent by their competitors and by everyone engaged in any way, shape or form in the debate.
The whole point of the First Amendment was to protect the people’s right to criticize those in power. It was meant to restrain Congress. That’s why it begins, “Congress shall make no law . . .” The whole point of SJR 19 is to do the opposite, to protect politicians from citizens by providing Congress precisely what our Founders denied to it: any power to restrain the speech of citizens by legislation.
In fact, this new amendment’s negation of rights is so sweeping that the text’s authors felt the need to include this statement in the amendment: “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”
No, just abridging freedom of speech. For now.
The New York Times and the Washington Post need not worry.
When I alerted readers of my Common Sense e-letter to the danger of SJR 19, one savvy commenter insisted that SJR 19 stands little chance of passing. Indeed, in this session of Congress, “freedom of speech” stands little chance of being ripped out of the Bill of Rights via SJR 19.
It would require two-thirds support — 67 votes in the Senate.
But how placid should we be about 44 percent of the U.S. Senate favoring a return to government absolutism?
Plus, the number of supporters may be greater than just the 44 sponsors. The Democratic Senate leadership has announced that Senate Joint Resolution 19 — what you and I should think of as the “Remove Freedom of Speech from Our Constitution Act” — will be brought to a vote this year.
Let’s hope it is well before the election. We need to know where all the Senators stand on reversing the First Amendment to put Congress in charge of what can be said in politics.
Those aware of the many exhortations to the IRS from Senate Democrats in recent years, urging an official Washington clampdown on political groups, are not surprised at SJR 19’s blatant assault on fundamental rights and the basic notion of small-d democracy.
The word “extremist” gets tossed about easily in Washington, at least when aimed at tea party activists, libertarians and conservatives. But what could be more extreme than proposing to machete the First Amendment and cross out “freedom of speech” from our rights?