More than 40 Senate Democrats have signed on to a constitutional amendment proposed by Senator Tom Udall’s (D., N.M.) that would fundamentally alter the right to free speech.
Republicans are attacking the proposal, which would "give Congress clear authority in the Constitution to regulate the campaign finance system," even though it has absolutely no chance of becoming a reality.
As Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) explains in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Udall’s amendment is ridiculous:
Two canards are put forth to justify this broad authority. First, "money is not speech." And second, "corporations have no free speech rights."
Neither contention bears even minimal scrutiny. Speech is more than just standing on a soap box yelling on a street corner. For centuries the Supreme Court has rightly concluded that free speech includes writing and distributing pamphlets, putting up billboards, displaying yard signs, launching a website, and running radio and television ads. Every one of those activities requires money. Distributing the Federalist Papers or Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" required money. If you can prohibit spending money, you can prohibit virtually any form of effective speech.
As for the idea that the Supreme Court got it wrong in Citizens United because corporations have no First Amendment rights, that too is demonstrably false. 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. 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.
Cruz argues that the amendment would empower Congress to do far more than simply "repeal Citizens United" or "regulate big money in politics," noting that there is nothing in the amendment’s language that would limit its scope to corporations and rich people. Only established news outlets are specifically exempted from the changes.
Under the proposed amendment, Cruz writes, Congress would have the ability to:
- Ban the National Rifle Association from distributing voter guides;
- Ban the Sierra Club from running political ads;
- Prohibit pro-life/pro-choice groups for spending money to advocate their views on abortion;
- Ban labor unions from engage in voter outreach;
- Make it illegal for bloggers to criticize the president;
- Ban book, movies, and other forms of media that could be classified as "political speech."
Because amending the Constitution requires two-thirds approval in both houses of Congress, and the consent of three-fourths of state legislatures, Udall's amendment is going nowhere. "Still," Cruz writes, "it's a reflection of today's Democratic disrespect for free speech that an attempt would even be made. There was a time, not too long ago, when free speech was a bipartisan commitment."