The ‘Farce’ of Free Speech

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick proclaims in a recent article that Stephen Colbert has effectively mocked the US Supreme Court into a corner regarding the controversial (only on the left) decision Citizens United case.  She argues that, using his rapier-sharp wit and the powerful populariry of his alter ego, Colbert is “winning the battle” to “undermine public confidence in the court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion.”

Citizen’s United was decided 5-4 in favor of not limiting the free speech of corporations and unions.  The case originated in a dispute over whether a non-profit corporation could air a film critical of Hillary Clinton.  The decision struck down provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act that had the effect of prohibiting political speech by corporations within a window of time near an election.  Further ripple effects are sure to follow.  

To any sane person, this would seem to be the correct finding.  As Justice Kennedy wrote in his opinion:

“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

But, to opponents of free speech such as Ms. Lithwick, there is evidently an “insane” amount of speech going on.   Political speech is very dangerous and should obviously be left to the professionals.  That is, professionals such as the New York Times, NBC-Universal , Washington Post; corporations all.   Only some corporations can be trusted with this much power.  Only the right-minded and fair institutions of the media can be trusted to inform that average schmuck about the ways of the political world.  We can’t have just any Tom, Dick and Harry exercising there first amendment rights and informing their fellow citizens about something they believe to be important.  Lest people be exposed to speech that is “noxious” or “insane” from the result of this “politically naive” court ruling. 

Colbert’s argument amounts to no more than parroting snappy one-liners about corporations being people. Yuk Yuk.  This superficial observation is all that Colbert needs to amuse himself and his fans.  This is the argument against which the Supreme Court has no chance? Mockery is not an argument, legal or otherwise.

To believe the hyerbolic rantings of the anti-speech crowd, one would think that the Citizens United had usurped Tom, Dick and Harry’s 1st amendment rights when in fact it is the opposite.  To give them the benefit of the doubt, I don’t believe that anyone wants to stifle the speech of any individual (unless they are too rich).  So, in their view of the first amendment, Tom, Dick OR Harry can say anything they want.   But when OR turns to AND, well then, we have a problem.  Presumably, one person may purchase advertising to spread his point of view, but if two people pool their money to do the same, that would be illegal.  

By the way, “Slate is published by The Slate Group, a Division of the Washington Post Company.”   Can we assume that Slate will go dark 30 days before the next election, or at least, stop accepting advertising revenue from corporations?