Hooray for the Supreme Court!
Hooray for the Supreme Court. Yes, believe it or not, they actually do deserve some praise. Specifically the members of the majority who recently held that Vermont's restrictive campaign finance laws violated the First Amendment's free speech provisions.
This development comes at an opportune time in our political history. Currently, our free speech rights are besieged by politicians using the boogeyman of political corruption to build support for laws which themselves corrupt our political system by limiting our ability to participate in it.
The most egregious national example is the 2001 Bi-partisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, (AKA McCain-Feingold), which placed severe limits on the ability of Americans, acting as individuals or as groups, to participate in our nation's political discourse within arbitrary time periods prior to elections. This bill was upheld by a five-to-four majority of the Supreme Court in 2003.
The difference between then and now? Samuel Alito. Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Alito replaced, was the deciding vote in upholding McCain-Feingold, while a few weeks ago Alito was part of the majority that threw out the Vermont statute, (as was newly appointed Chief Justice Roberts).
In other words, thanks to Bush's Supreme Court appointments, we're getting a Court that is becoming more interested in protecting freedom of political speech and less interested in allowing government to police how people participate in our political system.
In fact, three of the current justices are on record as wanting to go as far as overturning the Court's 1976 precedent, Buckley vs. Valeo, which allowed the government to set campaign contribution limits. This means that we now have three justices who think the government has no business regulating political spending or contributions, and two others that thought Vermont's campaign spending restrictions violated free speech. Good news for those who believe in the First Amendment.
In the meantime the free speech reformers are at it again, this time in court, with two of the original proponents of McCain-Feingold suing the Federal Election Commission for not being restrictive enough of political speech in how it applied the law. Based on the results in the Vermont case, it looks like they may be doing those who care about free speech a favor, perhaps putting us within a year of the Supreme Court revisiting McCain-Feingold and throwing it out altogether.
Thanks to the ongoing crusade for campaign finance "reform", political speech is one of the least protected forms of speech in America. Everything from flag burning to the distribution of virtual child pornography is protected, but not a group of citizens that wish to convince public officials to support their cause by airing TV ads within sixty days of an election. Does that sound like what the Founding Fathers had in mind with the First Amendment?
This is critical, as the Founders recognized political free speech as the key ingredient to maintaining a free society. If there is no freedom of political speech, then other rights secured by the political process are endangered.
While I'm not in the habit of quoting Justice Kennedy, an excerpt from his concurring opinion in the Vermont case is instructive in the current debate over "reform". He states that:
"The First Amendment guarantees our citizens the right to judge for themselves the most effective means for the expression of political views and to decide for themselves which entities to trust as reliable speakers€¦ These new laws force speakers to abandon their own preference for speaking through parties and organizations. And they provide safe harbor to the mainstream press, suggesting that the corporate media alone suffice to alleviate the burdens (placed) on the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens."
He went on to state that such "reform" is an "effort by Congress to ensure that civic discourse takes place only through the modes of its choosing". Ditto.
Notice that the proponents of such reform tend to be either members of the press or incumbent politicians that want to avoid having their records highlighted before the voting public.
Who do you trust to provide you with the information you need to cast an informed ballot when you step into the voting booth? Citizen driven organizations, or politicians and the media? Even if the answer is none of the above, shouldn't citizens at least be on an equal footing?
We are currently suffering from a pestilence of "reformist" politicians. They eagerly work to manufacture a political issue which will, serendipitously, provide job security by giving them the ability to restrict the effectiveness of political opponents in the future.
It's good to see the high court on our side for a change.