On May 15, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on June 3 on amending the U.S. Constitution to limit political speech. If ultimately adopted, it would mark the first time in American history that a constitutional amendment rescinded a freedom listed as among the fundamental rights of the American people.
The proposed amendment was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-CO) as S.J.R. 19 and if ratified would become the Twenty-Eighth Amendment. It provides in part that “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect [to] the Federal elections … [and] State elections.”
The proposed amendment includes a provision that “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” So Breitbart News, The New York Times, and the mainstream media would be able to say whatever they want, but citizens and citizen groups such as the National Rifle Association could not.
The American people have amended the Constitution 27 times in the nation’s history. Ten of those happened in a single package when the states ratified the Bill of Rights, and another three occurred between 1865 and 1870 following the Civil War, forbidding slavery and racial discrimination.
Reid usually opposes amending the Constitution. In 2011, Reid voted against S.J.R. 10, a proposed constitutional amendment by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee (R-UT) that would require the federal government to balance the federal budget. In 2004 Reid voted against S.J.R. 40 that would have protected marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which would not include same-sex partners or polygamous marriages of three or more people.
Only one amendment has modified a previous amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified in 1919 and empowered Congress to forbid alcohol nationwide. Then the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified in 1933 to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment and allow alcohol to flow once again.
But the right of Americans to fully engage in political speech is guaranteed by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. If S.J.R. 19 becomes part of the Constitution, it would be the first instance in which a right secured by a constitutional amendment was later scaled back.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promises that the full Senate will vote on the measure later this year.
Breitbart News senior legal analyst Ken Klukowski is a fellow with the American Civil Rights Union. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.