Wednesday, July 25, 2012

They'd Better Tell Scalia

The National Right to Life Committee is an organization devoted to saving the lives of the unborn (or so they claim, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt). They are so committed to saving the lives of the unborn that they have no regard for facts. Take this example, from one of their communiques in which they attack President Obama for supposedly seeking to stifle their First Amendment rights:
[...] the U.S. Constitution recognizes a virtually unlimited right to freedom of political speech for both individuals and groups of individuals. Without this, it wouldn’t be the America we know. But Barack Obama isn’t satisfied with that expression of our rights. He offended some by openly criticizing the Supreme Court ruling in his 2010 State of the Union message. He challenged Congress to find a way to overcome the Supreme Court’s broad protection of free speech in the Citizens United case. So now Obama supports the “DISCLOSE Act,” which used a different tack to limit the free speech rights of Americans. Unable to directly ban certain kinds of political speech, the “DISCLOSE Act” uses the strategy of punishing those who want to participate with groups of fellow-minded Americans and help their groups spread a political message. It does this by going after the donors and members of groups, subjecting them to disclosure requirements others are allowed to ignore.
That's how freely the NRLC plays with fact. I emphasized a couple of sentences that I find particularly offensive, and which I will stop short of openly calling lies because it might be that Carol Tobias, NRLC President, might simply be ignorant or too lazy to check the facts.

That the Citizens United ruling is one that upholds freedom of speech is only accepted by those who equate free speech with money. Many Constitutional experts vehemently disagreed with the ruling, and many intellectual, politicians, concerned citizens were appalled by the Court's decision, which was actually a rather disgraceful example of what Conservatives love to decry as judicial activism because the Court's majority expanded the ruling well beyond the limited question before the Court (as noted in Justice Stevens's 90-pages long dissent.), to establish previously non-existent rights.

But that is not the point of my distaste for the NRLC's letter. The origin of the distaste lies in the two sentences I emphasized above.

The purpose of the DISCLOSE Act is not, as the NRLC maintains, "to limit the free speech rights of Americans", nor to punish "those who want to participate with groups of fellow-minded Americans". The DISCLOSE Act would simply require that the names of the corporations, organizations, and individuals who make political contributions in excess of the limits established by the Act should be public. The rationale of the Act in setting these monetary limits is that if the American public could know which moneyed and powerful interests are behind a certain group, Super PAC, etc., it would be in a better position to evaluate the agendas that might drive a commercial, a message, an op-ed, and so on.

The idea that the identity of donors to political and legislative causes should be public is not exclusively a progressive cause. In a recent appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan show, Justice Scalia defended both the Citizens United ruling AND the basic ideas behind the DISCLOSE act (even though he did not specifically mention the Act itself.) And this is what Mother Jones magazine points out in an article about Scalia's dissent with Republicans on the issue of disclosure:
Scalia has expressed similar sentiments before, most notably in a 2010 case where anti-gay rights advocates in Washington State were attempting to block disclosure of signatories to a petition on the grounds that compelling them to do so violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court disagreed, and in a concurring opinion Scalia wrote that "There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance." Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.
So there, Carol Tobias, President of the NRLC, and those who--like her--think that President Obama's support of the DISCLOSE Act is an act of intimidation intended to stifle the voice of organizations like the NRLC: Your right of free speech is protected so extensively that it extends to the right to misinform your members and the American Public. Those who support it {DISCLOSE) only wish that the people who fund your distasteful spin had the cojones to identify themselves.

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