The Illinois Legislature passed a resolution this week calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. That ruling, which has been criticized by President Barack Obama, reaffirmed the First Amendment right of corporations, unions, and associations to engage in political speech before an election.
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“The Citizens United decision recognized that the First Amendment is not reserved for favored individuals and groups. The arguments made against Citizens United all boil down to a conviction that speech from some quarters is not worth hearing, and that the public cannot be trusted with the vote if they are influenced by certain disfavored speakers. These convictions are wholly contrary to our system of government, which trusts the people with the power to listen to, evaluate, and ultimately accept or reject what they hear.”
“It is almost impossible to draft a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United that doesn’t trample on fundamental First Amendment rights that almost all citizens hold dear. The dangers of stripping First Amendment rights from corporations include putting government censors in corporate-owned newspapers or prohibiting nonprofit corporations like the National Rifle Association or Sierra Club from lobbying Congress on behalf of their members.”
“While there is little danger that more political speech from a greater variety of sources will damage our Republic, there is great danger that attempts to reverse it will undermine core freedoms at the heart of America’s form of government.”
Sean Parnell was president of the Center for Competitive Politics when Citizens United was released and spent the next year defending the decision in a variety of forums.
“Yes, we know. Corporations are not people and money is not speech. Both statements are true. Both are beside the point. Corporations are, of course, associations of people and money makes speech possible. The freedom of speech would be empty if it was limited to the right to stand on the street corner and shout at cars. Our constitutional freedom of association would be a pale shadow if it did not include the right of people to band together to speak on matters of common concern.
“Newspapers and television networks are corporations. They spend money to speak. There is no principled basis upon which they can be distinguished from other associations of citizens who wish to be heard on candidates for office and questions of public policy. There is an unfortunately long list of persons and organizations who have been willing to trample on our First Amendment freedoms when defending them became ‘inexpedient.’ The Illinois legislature has joined those ignoble ranks.”
“If the First Amendment means anything, it means that the government may not silence, inhibit, or even ‘chill’ political speech, which – unlike, say, ‘nude dancing’ – is at the core of the First Amendment. Like gun control, national health insurance, and politically motivated investigations by the IRS, this proposed constitutional amendment is all about control of the citizenry and not about providing essential government services that are the only legitimate object of government spending. In a forest of bad ideas that seem to take root in Illinois, this is among the all-time worst.”
“Let’s leave aside for a moment the questionable moral and constitutional basis of one group in society (elitist liberals in ‘blue states’ and in academia, the media, and in government) trying to shut up their partisan adversaries. The simple fact is that liberals have deluded themselves in thinking that Republicans have some sort of big advantage in raising money, post Citizens United.
“An analysis by the liberal group OpenSecrets.org, for example, shows that, of the 16 largest donor groups to U.S. elections, 13 lean heavily Democratic, and the other three are balanced in their contributions. In the 2012 presidential election, Obama actually raised more money than did Mitt Romney. In 2008, Obama raised and spent vastly more money than John McCain.
“So this entire little crusade against free speech is in the service of a myth of the liberal/left: that they somehow represent the ‘little guy’ and Republicans represent ‘money.’ In reality, liberals represent extremely affluent elites.”
“At a time when pessimism over the nation’s direction is extremely high but economic growth is very low, to expend political effort to try to repeal part of our Bill of Rights suggests that our nation’s political leadership is approaching a historic low. This is an effort by those on the political left to weaken opposing views in a constitutional, permanent way that is more harmful than the IRS’s effort to intimidate those views short term through administrative actions.”
“Governments at all levels are using our information against us. And abusing the processes set up to acquire it. The examples are far too numerous to list here, but we can start with the IRS and Justice Department scandals currently roiling in Washington.
“National and provincial leftists now want even more of our First Amendment-protected campaign contribution data. So that too can be used against us. Don’t believe me? Ask the Republican-donating car dealers who lost their lots after the Obama auto (union) bailout.
“We need transparency from government – not transparency to government. In a constitutional republic, they should be reporting to us – not the other way round.”
“Corporations are companies of people, all of whom have basic human rights that the Constitution is supposed to protect. Ergo, Citizens United was a just ruling.”
Tibor R. Machan
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
R.C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise
Argyros School of Business & Economics
“James Madison famously argued that just as we have a right in our property, we have a property in our rights. He was very sensitive to the importance of our rights as free persons to freedom of religion, and of speech, in our right to self-defense, to be secure in our persons, papers and effects, and to be secure in our life, liberty and property, as well as our rights when we stand accused of crimes. These, Madison argued, were very precious and enjoyed universally by free persons and, so, warrant that all persons have the right to vote so as to be able to protect these rights.
“Madison argued that those who enjoyed wealth could protect their property and property in general, by using a portion of their wealth to convince their fellow citizens of the goodness of a private property-based, market-oriented economy. He was also in favor of administering elections in certain ways that would tend to result in the protection both of individual rights and of property. In particular, he favored larger districts and longer terms for the upper houses of our legislatures, which, he thought, would make them more inclined to protect property.
“While most states initially featured a property qualification for voting, eventually (and for some curious reasons that I will not go into in this comment) we wound up with universal suffrage. Therefore, the position argued by Madison is more relevant for us nowadays than it was at the Founding, and it is very important for the protection both of our precious individual rights and of our private property-based, market-oriented economy.”