Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court and Freedom of Speech

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. I've engaged in debate on both Facebook and to a lesser extent on Twitter (hard to debate in 140 characters) in full support of this decision. My position is simple: a law cannot be passed that inhibits or restricts freedom of speech of any individual or group - period.

Let me just put this out there so there are no misunderstandings: I believe that the structure of our current election system is screwed up. No arguments there. The way things are currently structured allows for (and some may say encourages) corruption, and is far far from perfect. But if you can tell me what political system is perfect and is free from corruption, let me know.

The SCOTUS decision reversed a 2002 law, usually called McCain-Feingold, that banned the broadcast, cable or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law, as narrowed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision (FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION v. WISCONSIN RIGHT TO LIFE, INC.) applied to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

To this I say - THANK YOU - it's about time. McCain-Feingold quieted the voices of corporations and labor unions, and is now considered illegal. The issue is simply this -quoted from the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." McCain-Feingold told corporations and labor unions that they could not freely speak for those 30 or 60 days prior to an election. THAT is NOT OK, and in clear violation of the 1st amendment.

If legislation can be passed restricting these groups from expressing their opinions, who is to say that it can't then be expanded and applied to other groups? It quickly becomes a very slippery slope, with a serious crash and burn at the end. Because it is not just corporations and unions that have that kind of cash. I can only imagine the outrage if Acorn or were told that they couldn't buy TV time prior to an election for the purposes of "an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” 

"We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The court has recognized that First Amendment protection extends to corporations."


I realize the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was passed with good intentions - to try to avoid undue influence of any one particular group (specifically one with a lot of money) on the general electorate. But I argue that it is the responsibility of each individual to do more thorough research before they make up their minds about candidates rather than rely on the 30 second sound bytes that are paid for by anyone who can afford to buy TV time. It's shameful that so many people don't. In this day and age of information overload, there is NO excuse not to find out more about your candidates than what you see between segments of Martha Stewart.

Everyone - every individual and every group - has a voice, and should be allowed to use that voice whenever they choose. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy and must never ever be compromised. I am thankful to the Court for preserving it.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I agree. Can I get married now?