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June 28, 2007

being allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded election

In a dangerous precedent with far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court this week vastly expanded the free-speech rights encompassed under the Constitution to include not only the expression of opinions (which is bad enough), but the expression of opinions that might influence voters before an election.

That’s right, before an election, when it can still do the most harm. Surely this is a Supreme Court run out of control.

Prior to this ruling, the airing of opinions by advocacy groups regarding where candidates for political office stood on the important issues of the day were carefully restricted by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in an effort to ensure that the electorate was not unnecessarily confronted with ideas that might seem strange and unfamiliar. The prohibition on such ads running within 60 days prior to an election was thought to provide ample enough time for an attractive young white woman to go missing somewhere, the better to help voters forget about the potentially disruptive viewpoints.

With this decision now in place, we face an uncertain future in which people are free to express any opinion they want, whenever they want, much like a pack of wild animals. Senator John McCain, co-author of the law, pointed out that groups will now be able “to target a federal candidate in the days and weeks before an election.”

Days and weeks! What are the chances that an attractive white woman will go missing just days before an election? What if Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan decide to go out in public wearing panties and then turn in early for a good night’s sleep?  What will cable news cover then?

Only chaos can ensue. In fact it is quite possible that we are facing a future in which incumbents will fail to be returned to office year after year the way our Founding Fathers had always intended.

Naturally, the decision was widely derided: "This is a big win for big money," said League of Women Voters President Mary G. Wilson, “Chief Justice Roberts has reopened the door to corruption."

Which clearly had been slammed shut with this law.

With these safeguards removed, “special interests” will now be able to air ads naming specific candidates right up to the day of the election. And just who are these nefarious special interests attempting to wreak havoc with our electoral process? Unions, environmental groups, gun-rights enthusiasts, pro-life organizations, civil rights groups… 

In other words: You. 

And do you really feel qualified to band together with like-minded citizens to fund ads in support of candidates you favor? Don’t you think that’s a little selfish, particularly when we have highly experienced professional politicians to handle all that complicated governing stuff for you already? As Ellen Miller, a long-time supporter of campaign-finance laws, put it, the ruling “could take the outcome of the elections out of the hands of the candidates.”

Think about that. Elections taken out of the hands of experienced candidates and placed into the grungy calloused hands of the masses.

So much for getting a good night’s sleep.

But it is not hopeless. You, as a concerned citizen, can refuse to take part in the coming melee of opinion mongering by adhering to the spirit of the original regulations and in so doing raise your hand as Lady Liberty has done all these years and ask yourself the questions that once stirred a nation to cast off the yoke of oppression:

  1. Is what I am saying the functional equivalent of express advocacy?
  2. Will I be party to the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth?
  3. Is the statutory standard I am applying impermissibly vague?

Don’t be embarrassed. We get goosebumps thinking about it too.

J.

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June 28, 2007 at 12:06 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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