Monday, August 03, 2009

Troubling Restriction of Rights

I'm a bit fascinated that this is the Administrations position.
Earlier this year, at Supreme Court oral argument in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the government raised eyebrows by arguing that it believed that it can constitutionally ban the publication of books (if, as is always the case, the publisher is a corporation) that contain even one line arguing for the election or defeat of a candidate for federal office. The government based its belief on the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld a blanket ban on corporate political spending in order to prevent "distortion" of campaigns. Faced with the full constitutional ramifications of Austin — for the government's position flows naturally from Austin — the Supreme Court asked the parties to reargue the case on September 9, to consider whether Austin should be overruled.

Austin was based on the assumption that the government could limit some speech in order to enhance the voices of others, although the case tried not to frame it that way. Rather, the Austin Court argued it was dealing with a "different type of corruption, the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth... ." To most people, that sounds like an egalitarian argument, not one about "corruption." Which would be fine — it is perfectly acceptable to favor things on egalitarian grounds — except that the First Amendment to the Constitution appears to forbid the government from making such determinations. As the Supreme Court stated in in the landmark case Buckley v. Valeo, "the 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, which was designed "to secure 'the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources,'" and "to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people."
Worrisome in how this could spread. Could this move to stifle blogs since they are published by large corporations? Just because a corporation is the means of the free speech does that mean that you have no right to use that mechanism?

Please read all of the article. It has more perspective.

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