WATCH: Ted Cruz Grills Vanita Gupta on Her Hostility to Free Speech

Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took Vanita Gupta to task Tuesday for her past hostility to freedom of speech, during her confirmation hearing for the position of Associate Attorney General.

Gupta, a left-wing activist who ran the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division during President Barack Obama’s tenure, faced scrutiny from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee over her radical views and history of partisan rhetoric.

During follow-up questions to his initial round, during which he excoriated Gupta over her record, Cruz honed in on her past claim that freedom of speech was not a “floating” right, but carried “responsibilities.”

Cruz specifically asked Gupta whether she had ever defended the freedom of speech of someone with whom she had disagreed, and whether she thought tech companies — who are heavily backing her confirmation — should exercise more censorship, or less censorship.

The two had the following exchange:

Sen. Cruz: One area that gives me real concern, Ms. Gupta, is in the area of free speech, and the censorship we see from Big Tech. You are one of a handful of individuals invited to have dinner with [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg to discuss the growing problem we’ve seen of Big Tech censorship silencing voices that Silicon Valley billionaires disagree with. And the dismaying thing is that what’s been publicly reported about that meeting is not that you urged Mr. Zuckerberg and others in tech to protect free speech, to have a free and fair marketplace of ideas, but precisely the opposite. From what’s been publicly reported, and the quote that’s been reported from this, in fact you tweeted this, was: “Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know what the first amendment is for. He thinks it’s a floating right that carries no responsibilities.” That seems to suggest that you want Big Tech to censor more speech rather than less speech. Would that be a good direction in this country ?

Gupta: Senator, I have fiercely defended freedom of speech. I’ve worked for an organization that has often been criticized for being so fierce in its defense of all free speech. I also believe that any type of viewpoint discrimination is an anathema to this country, it is unconstitutional plainly. My engagement with facebook was —

Sen. Cruz: Ms. Gupta, if I could ask you: Have you defended speech of someone you disagreed with? Have you ever defended the speech of pro-life advocates? Have you ever defended the speech of pro-Second Amendment advocates? Or is it just the people that politically agree with you whose free speech rights should be protected?

Gupta: Senator, as you know the American Civil Liberties Union defends —

Sen. Cruz: I’m asking about you personally know not more broadly, others.

Gupta: I haven’t been a free-speech lawyer myself, I have advocated alongside  —

Sen. Cruz: You headed the Civil Rights Division .

Gupta: — free speech at the ACLU and the Civil Rights Division, yes.

Sen. Cruz: So can you point to any instance of your defending the free-speech rights of someone you disagreed with?

Gupta: I’m sure that I did. The Civil Rights Division doesn’t enforce, doesn’t have a federal statute on this. Let me — I would welcome, actually, Senator, so that I don’t misspeak, an opportunity to respond in writing.

Sen. Cruz: I would welcome a response in writing. Let me just ask a simple question: should Big Tech be censoring more or censoring less?

Gupta: I think we want to ensure we have free speech and a free Internet while understanding the responsibility that social media has in propagating and radicalizing terrorists online, in —

Sen. Cruz: Let me try again. Is Big Tech engaged into much censorship or too little censorship ?

Gupta: I’m not sure I know which side of the ledger you’re talking about. they have community standards that they are not enforcing at many of these companies that are creating a lot of problems around issues in our democracy. For a long time they were allowing, Facebook was allowing unlawful ad targeting in housing ads, in using Section 230 as a shield —

Sen. Cruz: I guess I’m concerned if you’re saying that you want them enforcing community standards when you began this exchange with Senator [Cory] Booker [of New Jersey] by saying everyone in America has implicit racial bias, and you now want Big Tech Silicon Valley billionaires with monopolies to enforce standards that just happen to coincide with the political views you have.

The New Yorker article Gupta shared criticized Zuckerberg for allegedly believing in “unchallenged freedom of all speech.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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