The Bill of Rights dates from December 15, 1791, when Articles Three through Twelve of twelve articles approved by Congress on September 25, 1789, being duly ratified by the states, became the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.
The Bill of Rights then, has been with us for a long time, some 224 years. They have more or less stood the test of time. Tea Partiers in recent years have talked about getting rid of all of them save the Second and Tenth (not to mention all the Amendments from the Eleventh on). No Democrats have done so. The Constitution is, after all, a liberal achievement, and the Bill of Rights James Madison’s great achievement.
But 81-year-old Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) apparently decided to give Sarah Palin a run for her money where meaningless babble is concerned, and told the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday that if Democrats succeed in getting rid of Ciitizens United – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) – the Bill of Rights will soon follow.
We all know our Bill of Rights protects individual rights. We value, as is demonstrated here today, free speech, with emphasis on protecting the most important of all speech in a democracy, political speech, as much as any of those other rights in the First Amendment, and more so.
But it’s scary to tell you that four justices already are on record saying that freedom of speech is a collective right and somehow not an individual right. Four liberal justices have an upside-down understanding of the Constitution. They would vote to allow the Congress to limit your right to participate in the political process by limiting speech. Now the Constitution has to be amended to do that after the Supreme Court has gone a long ways in that direction. But did you know that there are liberal elements in the United States Senate, almost all of them have introduced a Constitutional amendment that would start amending the First Amendment. That’s a slippery slope [that] could lead us to the abolishment of the Bill of Rights as we’ve known it for 230 years. We can’t let that happen.
This is a bit of a jaw-dropping statement. After all, Citizens United only dates from January 21, 2010, making it just a few days over five years old and it is a money laundering scheme anyway. It is not a defense of democracy or free speech but rather the opposite, an attack on democracy and a means of keeping Republicans in power.
So how do amendments passed two centuries ago that give Americans freedom, depend for their continued existence on a ruling from five years ago that deprives Americans of that freedom? Obviously, they don’t.
Grassley’s whole performance was a calculated attempt to rile up the base about the threat posed by liberals, which itself is part of a longstanding effort to demonize and delegalize liberal ideology and politics. The only thing keeping Republicans in power right now is money, and they’ll tell any lies to hold onto that money.
If anyone has an “upside-down understanding of the Constitution,” it is five justices on the Supreme Court and Chuck Grassley himself. He may have, as The Des Moines Register claimed, “delivered a roaring address” but it was an address full of lies. On the other hand, what can you expect when you put a bunch of Republican presidential hopefuls together under the same roof?
There are various remedies to Citizens United, from Bernie Sanders’ recent amendment to Sen. Tom Udall’s Citizens United amendment (Amendment on Campaign Finance). Of course, neither Bernie Sanders nor Tom Udall is proposing to repeal the First Amendment, or even to strip out of it protection of free speech. On the contrary, their amendments would, by undoing the Supreme Court’s ruling, strengthen the First Amendment.
As Udall tells us:
The constitutional amendment would reverse dangerous Supreme Court decisions like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United and rein in the unprecedented flood of secret money in the campaign finance system. It would allow Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money, including so-called “Super PAC” independent expenditures, while giving states the same authority to regulate campaign finance at their level.
The proposed constitutional amendment:
– Restores authority to the American people, through Congress and the states, to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns
– Allows states to regulate campaign spending at their level;
– Includes the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, like those from Super PACs;
– Would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead would allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges;
– Expressly provides that any regulation authorized under the amendment cannot limit the freedom of the press.
So as you can see, no, Udall’s proposed amendment does nothing to curb freedom of speech. If added to the Constitution, it strengthens our democracy, not weakens it.
People like Grassley are claiming Democrats want to change the rules, but the “rules” they are referring to are only five years old. The old rules, the rules Udall would return us to, served just fine for 220 years.
It is ironic that with the GOP floating so many lies about the Udall Amendment, Patrick Maines of The Media Institute would write that the Democrats are the villains in this regard:
It would be possible to have an honest debate about the constitutionality of campaign finance laws, but not when the facts are twisted and the true motives of the disputants hidden from view.
Truer words were never spoken in defense of a lie. If you want the full story of Republican lies, Right Wing Watch lists the various dishonest arguments raised against the Udall Amendment here (and there are some whoppers).
This is just another case of Republicans outright inventing things out of whole cloth when they oppose something. They can hardly tell the truth about what they oppose and still have a leg to stand on, so they invent stuff they know their base will rally around. It’s dishonest, sure, but without lies, the Republican Party would cease to exist. As we saw with Boehner and McConnell on 60 Minutes yesterday, they have no ideas of their own.
Fox News claimed last May as the Senate moved to vote on the Udall amendment that, “Changes to the Constitution are difficult and the vote was more political than practical,” but what Grassley was defending at the Iowa Freedom Summit is an absurdity, best illustrated by this exchange between Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and Tom Udall last year:
Roberts: “Let’s stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment does not allow us to silence those who oppose us.”
Udall: “Money and speech are the same thing? This is tortured logic.”
Roberts, like Grassley, is spearing a straw man. The First Amendment does not allow us to silence those who oppose us. But Citizens United does allow those who can outspend us to silence us.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.
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