Buckley v. Valeo has recently turned forty. This case may not be as recognizable as others in our lifetime, but its imperfect yet continuing role of protecting our rights under the First Amendment is unquestioned. One key but often forgotten aspect of Buckley is how it protects us from forced equality of speech. Former RNLA campaign finance blogger Paul Jossey points out that without it, the absurd idea of political equality in this country would have continued to proliferate.
On the positive side Buckley’s wending opinion cemented its place in First Amendment lore with a single line: “[T]he concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” Buckley thus rejected “political equality”—equity being decided by those in power—as a legitimate reason to subjugate individual speech rights. Instead government could only curtail speech in order to combat “corruption” or its “appearance.”
By forbidding government from rationing speech through equality, Buckley unshackled the political marketplace that has since flourished with competing and diverse voices. Contrarily the Court’s stance provided perpetual heartburn for a generation of would-be speech policers. Politicians who abhor criticism cite equality as a rationale to abate individual First Amendment rights. Academics—particularly the Harvard law faculty—have supplied intellectual support for their fight.
Buckley changed the political landscape. In addition, it continues to protect our First Amendment rights by rejecting the irrationality of political equality in the United States political system.