Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that turned back a craven attack on the First Amendment.
In perhaps the most significant First Amendment ruling in many years, the court, on Jan. 21, 2009, in a case titled Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, struck down as unconstitutional a provision of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act. This was probably the most significant First Amendment ruling in many years.
“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits jailing citizens for engaging in political speech,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said in announcing the decision.
Leftists, as they are wont to do, denounced the decision because they despise anything that reduces their ability to control others.
If you recall, liberals were whining that the decision would mark the end of the Republic.
Now, five years later, we are still holding elections. The Koch brothers do not own the Capitol Building. And there is no evidence that the decision has changed the outcome of a single election. Indeed, President Barack Obama, one of the most outspoken critics of the decision, won re-election in 2012 despite being the largest target of outside spending in that election cycle.
In fact, the biggest problem with the Citizens United decision is that it did not go far enough in protecting free speech.
Part of the animus held toward the ruling is that people, thanks to the left-wing propaganda machine, believe it did things that it did not do.
The ruling simply rejected a congressional attempt to restrict free speech through campaign financing limits.
One argument the leftists make that always makes me laugh is that Citizens United reversed a century of Supreme Court jurisprudence. In reality, it overruled two cases, one that was just more than six years old, and another that was less than 20 years old.
Another myth of Citizens United, one that was prominent during the 2012 elections and can still be heard from leftists even to this day, is that the decision declared corporations as people.
The decision makes no reference to corporate personhood, and even if it did, the idea that corporations are people is a legal concept that has been around for nearly two centuries and has been cited in hundreds of Supreme Court decisions.
What the Citizens United decision did demonstrate is how radical the American left has become.
The ruling came down 5-4, with the leftists on the bench voting against free speech. Compare that to the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which ruled that limits on spending were unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment. That decision was 7-1 with such liberal heavyweights as Justices Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, and Thurgood Marshall siding with the majority.
Supporters of campaign financing limits, who apparently are opposed to free speech, wrongly believe that such restrictions prevent corruption in elections. Contributors to campaigns, the argument goes, might buy favors from candidates once they are in office.
Does anyone really believe that limiting campaign contributions is going to stop politicians from selling their votes?
The other argument against free speech is such restrictions are necessary because corporate spending would create such an inequality in speech that democracy itself would be undermined.
Does anyone really believe corporate spending will be one-sided? In reality, corporations are on both sides of the aisle and some corporations even give to both campaigns during the election.
Additionally, the law the justices struck down could have been used, as evidenced by the testimony of government lawyers, to ban books before elections.
Do we really want the federal government combing through books and documentaries to see if they pass the election censors?
There is nothing more anathema to a free society than government restrictions on speech, especially when that speech has to do with elections and politics. The Founders were strong advocates of free speech and no speech deserves protection more than political speech.
The real reason Congress tries to limit campaign financing is because it wants to regulate critical speech. In the end, what Citizens United recognized is that restrictions on campaign financing are nothing more than government restraint on speech.