The Death of Free Speech?

Democrats in the Senate want to take away your right to free speech.

At least, that’s what Senator Ted Cruz wrote on Sunday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that explained the left’s “assault on the First Amendment.”

As Cruz detailed in his piece, 41 Senate Democrats are co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment – proposed by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall – that would give Congress the power to regulate political speech.

The proposed amendment is a response to recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionand McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, both of which loosened campaign finance restrictions.

And as with other similar regulatory ideas, controlling political speech puts the country on a very, very slippery slope… one that Cruz believes could ultimately “silence citizens.”

The Pretense of Equality

Tom Udall’s amendment would allow Congress to regulate “the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections.”

And as Cruz noted in his op-ed, the amendment “places no limitations whatsoever on Congress’ new power.” Indeed, if the amendment passed, the legislative branch would essentially have free rein to regulate spending – and, consequently, political speech – as it saw fit.

You see, the Supreme Court has long concluded that free speech applies to more than just spoken words. And considering the fact that it’s very expensive to broadcast a message to a nation full of potential voters, limiting funding essentially limits speech. As The Heritage Foundation put it, “Virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money.”

The amendment’s supporters have tried to counter by saying that it would fight big money in politics and ostensibly repeal Citizens United, but it wouldn’t threaten the free speech rights of every citizen.

However, one look at the text completely deconstructs that argument. The amendment states that “nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”

But everyday people who’d like to exercise political free speech? Not so much. Even wealthy individuals and (presumably) political action committees would be vulnerable to Congress’ sweeping new power.

As Terry Eastland wrote in The Weekly Standard, “The Udall amendment would effectively remove political speech from the speech protected by the First Amendment and relocate it in a new amendment, where it would assume the guise of a political activity to be strenuously regulated.”

And you can probably imagine where such regulation would lead. Under the pretense of equality, regulating spending (and speech) could eventually lead to regulating outcomes, changing the course of elections in drastic and damaging ways.

In the end, this amendment would serve to protect incumbents – who are already in the public eye – while severely limiting the challengers, who may need to outspend their opponent to have a chance at winning an election.

The only upshot at this point is that amending the Constitution is an extremely challenging process. The amendment would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate, which seems extremely unlikely.

A small number of Democratic senators may have their sights set on destroying free speech, but I hope that the rest of our Congressmen haven’t completely lost their minds yet.

In Pursuit of the Truth,

Christopher Eutaw

Christopher Eutaw’s love of all things politics – paired with his passion and burning desire to uncover the truth – make him the perfect fit to run Capitol Hill Daily. His unmatched drive and political expertise ensures that all content on the website is honest, insightful and provocative. Learn More >>

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