On the First Amendment and Citizens United
Editor of the Reformer:
John McClaughry believes that the Left seeks to destroy the First Amendment ("The left's campaign to destroy the First Amendment," Sept. 6). I disagree.
Two questions guide the Citizens United decision. First, is free speech limited to an individual person or does it include an organized group of individuals? Second, is the Constitution to be interpreted, as a matter of principle, only on the basis of the words of the First Amendment as they would have been understood by the framers or, as a matter of pragmatism, by comparing the results of alternative interpretations to the intent of the framers in writing the Amendment?
On the first, the Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." I take the "press" to be the publisher of a newspaper. The publisher is an organized group of individuals, as are corporations. I conclude that the First Amendment guarantees corporations the right to say what they want.
On the second, Our right to free speech is not absolute. As Justice Holmes pointed out, no one has the right to shout "fire" in a theater. The right has limits, and the behavior of persons exercising the right may be regulated.
Since the ratification of our Constitution, the division between the wealthy (Hamilton) and the masses (Jefferson) has been at the heart of our politics.
This leads to a third question: The wealthy have a right to say whatever they please politically, but the spending of their resources may be regulated. Congress should set limits and the Supreme Court should act as an umpire (as Chief Justice Roberts said in his Senate hearing) to ensure that the limits are within reason. The Court did not act as such an umpire when it rendered a decision the result of which is to set no limits on spending by corporations or the wealthy.
Mr. McClaughry is not seeking to protect the First Amendment but rather to protect the permanent political advantage that the Supreme Court gave to corporations and the wealthy in their Citizens United decision.
This "lefty" is seeking to make the First Amendment function equally for the wealthy and the mass.
Dummerston, Sept. 11