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Senate Dems Bear Down on Attacking Free Speech

Senate Dems Bear Down on Attacking Free Speech

30 hours and counting for debate on SJR 19…

Yesterday was another heated day on the floor of the Senate, as Republicans took to the podium to lambaste SJR 19, Democrats’ latest effort to control the content and flow of political speech in America.

As we discussed Monday, SJR 19 proposes a Constitutional amendment that would give Congress the right to set limits on how much money can be raised for and spent in federal political campaigns, and would drastically limit the First Amendment rights to both free speech and free association. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), have spent the past two days defending the resolution as our last chance to preserve the integrity of the vote—and proposing some dangerous policy in the process.

Tuesday brought both junior and senior Senators to the floor in opposition to the proposed amendment, putting Democrats on defense and causing waves on social media. One of the main concerns raised in Tuesday’s floor speeches was the potential for government control over political speech to spiral, and cut off the flow of information entirely.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) got creative with his presentation, targeting Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and others who embrace parody and humor as part of their political commentary:

“Congress would have the power to make it a criminal offense, Lorne Michaels could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician. That is extraordinary. It is breathtaking and it is dangerous,” the Texas Republican argued on the Senate floor on Tuesday, with a board of stills from the late-night sketch show displayed behind him.

Cruz said that the proposal, which will face a vote tomorrow, gives Congress the authority to prohibit corporations from engaging in political speech.
“Well, NBC which airs Saturday Night Live, is a corporation,” Cruz said, who gave his own impression of Dana Carvey as President George H.W. Bush.

Both Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) addressed the valid concern that if passed, SJR 19 could eventually spur a constitutional amendment that would prevent the spread of any information Congress deems inappropriate or inconvenient.

Senator Lee has a great point. SJR 19 contains a convenient provision addressing how the resolution could affect press access:

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant
Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the

The problem with this is, we’ve never defined what “the press” is. We know that ABC/NBC/CBS count, but does Legal Insurrection? Does Breitbart News? Does Joe Smith Blogger from Litchfield, Illinois count? There’s no possible way to control the effects of SJR 19’s proposed amendment because there are too many variables left undefined. It’s vague by nature, which could spell disaster for activists and bloggers.

Although some have questioned the Republican leadership’s strategy of allowing the resolution to move forward, John Hayward at Human Events has an editorial out that describes perfectly why this tactic will leave Republicans on top:

Senate Democrats have been wasting America’s time on a showboating effort to repeal the First Amendment – a bill they know is doomed to go nowhere, but it would give them something to sell to their dispirited base going into the midterm elections. The Republicans were supposed to slap this dumbassery down, giving Democrats a chance to run to their gullible base voters and cry: See, we tried to do something about the evil Koch Brothers, but those rascally Republicans stopped us, because they think billionaires should be able to buy elections!

But Senate Republicans, with a twinkle in their eye, voted to advance the Democrats’ stupid bill, making the Democrats look utterly foolish as they whined to the media about how those mean old Republicans took their base-goosing clown act seriously.

Shot and chaser. We knew Harry Reid was going to bring this up at some point this year because “getting money out of elections” is the kind of tripe that gets the progressive base all whipped up and mobilized. Why not take advantage of this opportunity to make Democrats look foolish, and let Republicans flex their muscles?

The benefit is twofold: the media is already being forced to cover this as an issue that a Republican minority is perfectly willing to debate (down goes Reid’s easiest talking point;) but more importantly, it gives conservatives an opportunity to bring the concepts of free speech and association to center stage. The fact that this resolution exists is proof that this discussion needs to happen; SJR 19 is dangerous, not because it tinkers with campaign finance law, but because, as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) put it, its very premise is grounded in the idea that freedom of speech somehow reduces liberty:

“Senate Joint Resolution 19 is exactly…what America’s founders ratified the First Amendment to prevent. Supporters of this radical proposal apparently believe that freedom itself is the problem. That view is contrary to the fundamental principles of this Republic and incompatible with free society. Freedom is not a problem. It’s the solution.”


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So, they do want to control the money spent on campaigns, and they do not want audit-able voting tallies?

To reiterate an important point…

The “press” is not a clique of people who have gone to J-school, or been given a “press pass”, or anything of the kind as the term was used in the First Amendment.

The “press” as used by the Framers meant the ability to communicate “industrially”. It is free speech given the power of mass communications, which was still a relatively new concept in those days, and which has exploded in our time.

In our time “the press” is the means…any means…we have to reach other people, including “social media”. If you can attract a lot of twitter followers, you are using “the press” as the Founders used the term. Or rather, your smartphone is the “press” of our time.

    stevewhitemd in reply to Ragspierre. | September 10, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Rags, we’d all agree with you, but as you well know, the folks who wrote SJR19 believe exactly the opposite of that. By their thinking, you need to have a government-issued ID (perhaps with a photo on it!) to be a member of the press. And that ID card will be zealously defended by the ones who manage to get one, starting with the New York Times itself.

    Count on it.

      See my comment in the prior thread about recommending to each and every political group and candidate that they purchase the smallest printing press that they can find, which immediately makes them immune to the remainder of the bill.

      If the Federal Government wants to then challenge the term “press” we can have a big, old fight about the exact meaning that the Founders gave it (which was literally OWNERSHIP of a press). That, in and of itself right there, will destroy campaign finance laws forever.

      Ragspierre in reply to stevewhitemd. | September 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Oh, of course, Doc! This is just their continuing perversion of the language and the concepts behind anything having to do with the Constitution.

So the Democrats, poster children of out of control government spending, are going to determine just how much government money they get to spend on their campaigns. What could possibly go wrong?
(dives for cover)

Humphrey's Executor | September 10, 2014 at 10:05 am

I hope at least on GOP Senator will put up the ACLU’s list of examples of why this amendment is a terrible idea. It will, for example, give politically motivated prosecutors more power (than they already have) to harass the opposition through selective enforcement of byzantine campaign finance laws. See e.g. the “John Doe” witch hunt against Gov. Scott Walker and his supporters.

Our founding fathers should have left the first amendment as “Congress shall make no laws.”

The press is that which disseminates information to We the People.
We the People decide and discriminate as to which information is of value and worthy and which is trash, not the DemoRats.

As I write this, there are 49 (co)sponsors for S.J.Res.19 and 122 for the companion House resolution (H.J.Res.119). I can only hope that every single member who is up for re-election this cycle has their support for this amendment raised and brought to the attention of the voters. Force them to tell the voters why they think it’s a good idea for government to have the power to determine what political speech people are allowed to engage in.

    Another Voice in reply to joe.butin. | September 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Yes, Nothing like taking ownership to give perspective on the committed dirty deed you have intentions to support or where your character lies to those who you have been elected by to represent.

Dems know this isn’t going anywhere. It’s a bone tossed to their base for midterms, and they have others ready to go, all basically just handclapping for themselves up to November. They’ll go after Citizens, but not in a congress in which they’ll likely be minority in both houses soon.. They’ll use the courts.

The GOP wasn’t supposed to vote this up, lol. They were supposed to kill it so Dems could use that against them, the old obstructionist GOP thing, and then toss something else up there for the GOP to kill Campaign ad fodder. Now Dems have to waste time dealing with a proposal they already know how zero chance of passing.

It isn’t often I laud the GOP, but they were smart to support this at this stage, tossing a wrench into Reid’s plans.

    Yes. Desperate and looking for election issues to divert from their failings and rally the ignorant base.

    Another Voice in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    The results of this piece of legislation has all the attributes of “unintended consequences” of giving back grief to these 171 legislatures by their opposition way past the coming election cycle, even if the piece of legislation comes to naught.

Bye Thif Internet Flyer:


“Press” means printed speech. In case you thought that SPEECH is only that which emanates from the mouth and, possibly, in individual communiques from the end of the quill, we included PRESS. The “press” means words and ideas disseminated in the high-tech way that enables multiple simultaneous speakings, such as in books, and in thif flyer.

“Press” does NOT mean “a big fancy specially privileged company that puts out newspapers” or “a corporation that hires people to speak through the airwaves and has received an FCC license”.

The government can now require us to spend our money on purchasing health care whether or not we want or need it. That same government could, under this resolution, deny us the right to spend money on political speech. So, what’s left of our control over our own money? There is early US precedent on restricting speech, John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts which restricted political speech. Didn’t work then, won’t work now and will be a real political liability for those who support this infringement of freedom.

    Milhouse in reply to Cicero. | September 10, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    The government can now require us to spend our money on purchasing health care whether or not we want or need it.

    No, it can not. Where have you been for the last few years? The Supreme Court ruled explicitly and resoundingly that Congress has no power to compel us to buy anything, and the ACA survived only because it doesn’t require us to buy anything.

    Congress does, of course, have the power to tax us for all sorts of things, including not buying health insurance, but we remain free to pay the tax and not buy it.

    Ragspierre in reply to Cicero. | September 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Well, kinda…

    I won’t comply. I won’t pay anything. Not for insurance. Not a tax for not paying for insurance.

    I will NOT comply. You can join me.

Please Republicans call this what it truly is, FASCISM! The Democrats now look like Nazis; CALL THEM THAT!

Section 3 is the most amusing part to me:

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

It’s a disclaimer. It basically says, “We’re claiming the power to abridge freedoms protected by the First Amendment, but it’s OK because it says here we’re not abridging one of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”

Reminds me of the “Second Amendment Butt” people. Y’know, the ones who have the gall to say, “I support the Second Amendment freedoms of all Americans, BUT we need Universal Background Checks, a complete federal gun registry, and full confiscatory bans (exempting law enforcement and active military) on military-pattern guns, “assault weapons”, full- and semi-automatic guns, “high-capacity [greater than 7 rounds] magazines”, scoped guns [“sniper rifles”], handguns [pistols, revolvers, AND derringers], .50-caliber guns, and repeating [including bolt-, lever-, and pump-action] arms….”

… Which leaves nothing but single-shot, double-barrel (Joe-Biden-Approved!), and muzzle-loading firearms, all without scopes, but hey! They say they support the Second Amendment, so that makes it all OK!

If the debate on this bill and others keep the DemocRATs off the campaign trail for next two months, more power to them.

It’d be a miracle if the United State remains a union with 50 states. (57, if you’re Ebola Boy.)

No miracles are on the horizon.