If my father didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease and was aware of what’s happening in Washington, he’d be cursing himself for having appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the United States Supreme Court.
In the Court’s latest outrageous ruling, it was O’Connor’s swing vote that created a 5-to-4 majority that decided that free speech as protected under the First Amendment isn’t all that important after all.
In that ruling Wednesday O’Connor and her colleagues just went ahead and simply emasculated the First Amendment, deciding Congress in its wisdom is free to pass laws abridging freedom of speech, as long as its motives are as pure as the driven snow.
It used to be said that the Constitution means whatever the Supreme Court says it means. Nowadays it seems to mean whatever Sandra Day O’Connor says it means.
The majority – three of whom have previously said that the Court should turn their noses up at the Constitution and abide by the decisions of foreign courts – found that much of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law is constitutional – mainly those provisions which limit the amounts contributors can donate to political parties and bans a wide range of political advertisements in the 60 days prior leading up to an election.
Their reasoning: the very thought that campaign contributions might somehow “corrupt” political campaigns is more important than the right to free speech.
Speaking for the majority, Justices O’Connor and John Paul Stevens wrote, “The question for present purposes is whether large soft money contributions to national party committees have a corrupting influence or give rise to the appearance of corruption.”
This ruling is nothing less than a guarantee that incumbents will be given protection against being thrown out of office by the groups of voters, who now are deprived of the opportunity to say anything negative about an office holder or the issues in the 30 days before a primary and 60 days before an election. It is nothing less than an incumbent’s full employment guarantee.
Instead of protecting the free speech rights of every American, Justice O’Connor and her colleagues in the majority chose to protect the interests of incumbent elected officials, thus defending them from the having to deal with messy hard-nosed political debate. As some critics have noted, if campaign speech can be regulated or even outlawed, in the eight or so weeks before elections, why allow the people to vote in the first place? Instead just appoint politicians to office for life.
This ruling means that such groups as Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the National Rifle Association will be banned from alerting voters about the real issues in a political campaign in the two months before an election.
The ruling hands more power to the dominant liberal media, the ABCs, the NBCs, the CBSs of the world while taking away the power of the people and giving it to them and the rest of the media.
The court upheld restrictions on ads appearing close to an election paid for by unions or corporations that refer to a candidate. This amounts to a curtailment of the right of free speech and it is really a warning that there is more of this to come, as Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent. The media itself may be the next target, he wrote noting that he found nothing in the majority’s reasoning that would forbid “outright regulation of the press.”
This is the same court that ruled that virtual pornography is constitutional, even if people perceive it as pornography but if I want to take out an ad supportive of a candidate’s position within 60 days of an election it could be perceived as corrupting the political process and is therefore unconstitutional.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the court has in recent years defended the free-speech rights of tobacco companies to advertise and sexually explicit cable programming, but now “smiles with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.”
So I can draw a virtual picture of a candidate naked, but I can’t say anything about him or his policies in the 60 days before an election.
©2003 Mike Reagan. Mike’s column is distributed by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561 Call us for copyright permission to print this column.