Candidates often make outrageous claims. It comes with the territory. But Rep. Edward J. Markey, seeking the Massachusetts seat in the U.S. Senate vacated by John F. Kerry, redefines “outrageous.” He wants to “repeal” the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which he compared to the Dred Scott decision of 1857, when the high court ruled that a slave named Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom because as “descended from Africans,” he was not a citizen of the United States. This effectively upheld the institution of slavery.
“I want to go to the United States Senate in order to fight for a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United,” Mr. Markey told a group of Massachusetts voters. “The whole idea that the Koch brothers, that Karl Rove can say, ‘we’re coming to Massachusetts, to any state of the union with undisclosed amounts of money,’ is a pollution, which must be changed. The Constitution must be amended. The Dred Scott decision had to be repealed. We have to repeal Citizens United.”
Hyperbole is a familiar ingredient of political debate, and long may it wave. But Mr. Markey should take two aspirin, lie down and he’ll probably feel better. We think reversing Citizens United is a bad idea — tinkering with free speech is always a bad idea — but reversing any court decision is a legitimate, if not always worthy goal. Nevertheless, even if Citizens United is as bad as Mr. Markey says it is, it hardly rises to the evil of slavery. Such racial insensitivity has no place in the debate, circa 2013.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission grew out of a lawsuit over an unflattering television documentary about Hillary Rodham Clinton, intended for wide broadcast. The Federal Election Commission ruled it could not be broadcast within 30 days of a primary election or within 60 days of a general election. In proceedings before the Supreme Court, the government argued that it had the power to ban not just movies, but even a book, if it contained just one sentence expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, whether the material was published or distributed by a corporation or a union.
The court ruled for free speech by a vote of 5 to 4, with the usual liberal suspects dissenting. The First Amendment applies to corporations and unions as well as individuals, since unions and corporations are made up of individual citizens.
Mr. Markey is not the first politician to seek to amend that pesky First Amendment, which stubbornly insists that it applies to everyone. In 1998, the House of Representatives, by a margin of 345 to 29, rejected a similar effort by Richard A. Gephardt, then a Democratic representative from Missouri. Since Mr. Markey can’t seriously think his repeal of free speech will be adopted, his bluster is obviously meant to fire up his base, which lately has been particularly annoyed by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Silencing not just Mr. Rove, but George Soros, who has contributed millions to liberal and left-wing groups, by restricting everyone’s speech would hurt the left, too. In the 2012 election cycle, the unions spent more than $1 billion, nearly all of it to elect liberal Democrats.
Mr. Markey should have learned by now that the proper response to free speech he doesn’t like is more free speech that he does like. His cavalier lack of regard for free speech is something for Massachusetts Democrats to keep in mind when they vote in their party primary on April 30.
The Washington Times
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