The Senate Judiciary Committee is held a hearing today titled “Examining a Constitutional Amendment to Restore Democracy to the American People” to debate Harry Reid’s proposed Amendment that would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision on campaign finance laws.
Witnesses before the committee included Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and attorney Floyd Abrams.
Reid, of course, spoke in favor of his amendment, telling senators he wants to get “shady money” out of the political system.
McConnell bashed the idea of amending the Constitution to limit political speech, calling it “embarrassingly bad.”
“Americans from all walks of life understand how extraordinarily special the First Amendment is. Like the Founders, they know that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to criticize their government are necessary for our democracy to survive.
“Benjamin Franklin noted that ‘whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.’ The First Amendment is the constitutional guarantee of that freedom, and it has never been amended.
“Attempts to weaken the First Amendment–such as the proposal before this Committee–should therefore pass the highest scrutiny. Senate Joint Resolution 19 falls far short of that high bar.
“It would empower incumbent politicians in Congress and in the states to write the rules on who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And the American people should be concerned–and many are already–that those in power would use this extraordinary authority to suppress speech that is critical of them.
“I understand that no politician likes to be criticized — and some of us are criticized more often than others. But the recourse to being criticized is not to shut up our fellow citizens – which believe me that is what this is designed to do – to give us the power to pick winners and losers in the political discussion in this country.
It’s to defend your ideas more ably in the political marketplace, to paraphrase Justice Holmes. Or it’s simply to come up with better ideas.
“The First Amendment is purposefully neutral when it comes to speech. It respects the right of every person to be heard without fear or favor, whether or not their views happen to be popular with the government at a given moment.
“The First Amendment is also unequivocal. It provides that ‘Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.’ The First Amendment is about empowering the people, not the government. The proposed amendment has it exactly backwards. It says that Congress and the states can pass whatever law they want abridging political speech–the speech that is at the very core of the First Amendment.
“If incumbent politicians were in charge of political speech, a majority could design the rules to benefit itself and diminish its opponents. And when roles reversed, you could expect a new majority to try to disadvantage the other half of the country. And on it would go.
“You can see why this is terrible policy. You can also see how this is at odds with the First Amendment.”