Commentary

Cruz blasts Dems’ attack on First Amendment

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tedcruz2In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted Senate Democrats for supporting a constitutional amendment that, he says, undermines American’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“For two centuries there has been bipartisan agreement that American democracy depends on free speech,” wrote Cruz. “Alas, more and more, the modern Democratic Party has abandoned that commitment and has instead been trying to regulate the speech of the citizenry.”

“We have seen President Obama publicly rebuke the Supreme Court for protecting free speech in Citizens United v. FEC; the Obama IRS inquire of citizens what books they are reading and what is the content of their prayers; the Federal Communications Commission proposing to put government monitors in newsrooms; and Sen. Harry Reid regularly slandering private citizens on the Senate floor for their political speech,” he wrote. “But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Senate Democrats have promised a vote this year on a constitutional amendment to expressly repeal the free-speech protections of the First Amendment.”

According to Cruz, 41 Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors of New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall’s amendment to give Congress “plenary power to regulate political speech.”

“The text of the amendment says that Congress could regulate “the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections.” The amendment places no limitations whatsoever on Congress’s new power,” he wrote.

For Cruz, the amendment relies on two positions of the Democratic Party – positions which, in Maine, were recently affirmed by Democrats at their state convention in Bangor. Those positions are that “money is not speech” and that “corporations have no free speech rights.”

Cruz rejects the notion that money is not speech, much as centuries’ of Supreme Court majorities. He says just about every campaign activity involving the dissemination of political speech requires money and that, therefore, limits on political spending and fundraising amount to restrictions on political speech.

“Distributing the Federalist Papers or Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” required money,” he wrote. “If you can prohibit spending money, you can prohibit virtually any form of effective speech.”

Cruz similarly debunks the leftist contention that corporations are not entitled to freedom of speech protections: “The New York Times is a corporation. The television network NBC is a corporation. Book publisher Simon & Schuster is a corporation. Paramount Pictures is a corporation,” he wrote. “Nobody would reasonably argue that Congress could restrict what they say—or what money they spend distributing their views, books or movies—merely because they are not individual persons.”

But, as Cruz sees it, the amendment in question is about more than campaign finance reform or reversing Supreme Court decisions that have allowed for unrestricted political spending. He wrote, “Indeed, the text of the amendment obliquely acknowledges that Americans’ free-speech rights would be eliminated: It says “[n]othing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” Thus, the New York Times is protected from congressional power; individual citizens, exercising political speech, are not.”

If the amendment is adopted, Cruz foresees a scenario in which all political groups – from the left to the right – are subject to Congressional oversight. This could mean the National Rifle Association is prevented from telling voters how candidates have voted on firearm legislation or the Sierra Club could be blocked from running political ads highlighting a candidates views on environmental policy. Adoption of the amendment would even open the door for Congress to ban books, movies and radio programs if they might influence elections but are not deemed “press.”

Cruz concludes: “John Stuart Mill had it right: If you disagree with political speech, the best cure is more speech, not less. The First Amendment has served America well for 223 years. When Democrats tried something similar in 1997, Sen. Ted Kennedy was right to say: “In the entire history of the Constitution, we have never amended the Bill of Rights, and now is no time to start.””

Readers can find the full op-ed here. (Warning: WSJ subscription required.)

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson was the editor of The Maine Wire from 2013 through 2014. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, and is currently a Producer for The Howie Carr Show in Boston.

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