Liberals and sometimes conservatives often forget that the correct way to enlarge the government's powers, if enlarge we must, is not through the courts or Congress, but to amend the Constitution. We haven't done that in more than two decades, and the most recent change, adoption of the 27th Amendment to prevent congressmen from raising their salaries before an election, was first proposed in 1789. The Constitution has staying power.
It's refreshing how two Democratic senators, Jon Tester of Montana and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, are going about trying to overrule the Supreme Court's campaign-finance decision known as Citizens United. We think their objections are wrongheaded, but we applaud the way they're trying to change it.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the First Amendment protection of free speech applies to Citizens United, which made a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton and wanted to screen it before the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. The Federal Election Commission intervened to stop the screening. The court said the government had no standing to intervene, because groups are a collection of individuals with the free speech rights of individual citizens. "Political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it," the court held.
Mr. Tester's amendment would alter the Constitution so that "The words people, person, or citizens" could not be applied to "corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable ."
Advocacy groups, newspapers and churches are all organized under the tax code as corporations. This might give federal, state or even local governments the ability to decide what newspapers could publish, and determine what advocacy groups could say. Churches and religious organizations could be muzzled if they offend a bureaucrat somewhere in West Gondola.
The change could have implications beyond the First Amendment by excluding corporate entities from the protections against illegal searches and seizures, or even takings of properties, that would only apply to individuals. Mr. Tester says, "Montanans expect real people and their ideas — not corporations and their money — to decide our elections," but his amendment does much more than he might realize or care to admit.
To change the Constitution requires several steps, and this high bar has prevented dumb ideas from enshrinement in our highest law. Sometimes it has encouraged lazy politicians to try to sidestep the amendment process. Not so long ago, teetotalers led the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned booze, and another amendment was required to undo that.
Mr. Tester's proposed amendment isn't likely to go far, but it's an important reminder that there's a right way and a wrong way to change government policy, and that misbegotten notions about saving cherished rights can destroy those rights.
The Washington Times
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