Senate Democrats pushed ahead this week in their effort to revise the First Amendment. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell testifiedagainst the Democrat’s so-called Political Equality Amendment before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Senate Republicans on the committee highlighted the multitude of potential devastating impacts this amendment would have on First Amendment free speech protections. As addressed in the previous post, the proposal would vest Congress with the power to regulate campaign fundraising and expenditures in federal campaigns.
McConnell reminded the committee that, “[t]he First Amendment is about empowering the people, not the government. The proposed amendment has it exactly backwards. It says that Congress and the states can pass whatever law they want abridging political speech—the speech that is at the very core of the First Amendment.”
Senator Ted Cruz emphasized the potential for abuse saying, “[t]his amendment, if adopted, would give Congress absolute authority to regulate the political speech of every single American with no limitations whatsoever. This amendment is about power and it is about politicians silencing the citizens.” Essentially, “42 Democrats have signed on to repeal the First Amendment.”
In his opening statement, ranking Judiciary Committee Member Chuck Grassley noted that the proposal would, “amend the Constitution for the first time to diminish an important right of Americans that is contained in the Bill of Rights. In fact, it would cut back on the most important of these rights, core free speech about who should be elected to govern ourselves. . . . We would be back to the days when criticism of elected officials was a criminal offense, as during the Alien and Sedition Acts. And yet its supporters say this amendment is necessary for democracy.”
Grassley affirmed the American tradition of free public discourse saying, “[s]peech concerning who the people’s elected representatives should be; speech setting the agenda for public discourse; speech designed to open and change the minds of our fellow citizens; speech criticizing politicians; and speech challenging government policy are all in the nation vital rights. This amendment puts all of them in jeopardy upon penalty of imprisonment.”
He went on to echo the tremendous potential for government abuse under the proposed amendment. He noted that, “[u]nder this amendment, Congress could do what the Citizens United decision rightfully said it could not: make it a criminal offense for the Sierra Club to run an ad urging the public to defeat a congressman who favors logging in the national forests; for the National Rifle Association to publish a book seeking public support for a challenger to a senator who favors a handgun ban; or for the ACLU to post on its website a plea for voters to support a presidential candidate because of his stance on free speech.”
Leader McConnell distinguished between the First Amendment’s limitations on Congress’ authority and power this amendment would give Congress by saying it, “is especially clear when one compares the language of the amendments.” He concluded by urging, “the Committee to reject this dangerous proposal to dramatically weaken one of our most precious freedoms.”