According to 46 Senators, 'Political Equality' Means Some People Have More Freedom of Speech Than Others

Yesterday, as Damon Root noted, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment designed to facilitate the regulation of political speech. That is not how the amendment's supporters describe it, of course. According to Section 1 of the amendment, the aim is to "advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all." But what sort of political equality are we talking about?

It is not equality under the law or the principle of one man, one vote, both of which the Constitution already protects. Instead it is something like equality of political influence, meaning that people should not, by virtue of superior financial resources, have an edge in promoting the causes and candidates they favor. That is why the amendment gives Congress the "power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections." This power includes, but is not limited to, imposing limits on campaign contributions, campaign spending, and independent spending in support of or in opposition to candidates for office. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, restrictions on spending amount to restrictions on speech, because you cannot get your message across to a mass audience without spending money. The amendment—which was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and has 45 cosponsors so far, all of them Democrats—effectively appoints the federal government as moderator of the national political debate, with the power to determine who has spoken too much and who deserves a turn. 

The amendment's sponsors understand that, which is why they included Section 3: "Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press." Without that proviso, Congress could impose a spending limit on Fox News or The New York Times to curtail what many people perceive as undue influence on the political debate. But freedom of the press is not limited to professional journalists. In the context of the First Amendment, "the press" refers to a technology of mass communication, not to a privileged subset of the people who use that technology. Nowadays "the press" encompasses not just books and periodicals but also TV, radio, and the Internet. The First Amendment guarantees everyone the freedom to use those media, whether he is an employee of an officially recognized news organization,  an independent blogger, a billionaire ideologue, or an activist pooling his resources with those of likeminded citizens. Properly understood, Section 3 swallows the whole amendment.

That is not the intent of the amendment's backers, of course. What they have in mind is a legal regime in which certain speakers are legally privileged while others are subject to minute regulation aimed at ensuring that they do not exercise undue influence, as determined by legislators and bureaucrats—all in the name of "political equality." 

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  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The simple act of signing that document as a co-sponsor ought to land them in jail for treason. It's a violation of the what is arguably the most sacrosanct Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    To their credit, at least they actually want to amend the Constitution, unlike "living Constitutionalists" who want words to mean whatever they say they mean.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'm frankly shocked. When's the last time anyone bothered to try and amend the Constitution legally, rather than through some illegal usurpation?

  • MegaloMonocle||

    When's the last time anyone bothered to try and amend the Constitution legally,

    Prolly the last serious attempt to amend the Big C was the '70s, when the Equal Rights Amendment made a run but fell short.

    Its funny, you used to hear a lot about it, but nothing in recent years.

  • David Lango||

    The U.S. Constitution wasn't to be meddled with, but the establishment used the 16th Amendment to usurp our government. Secretary of State Philander Knox committed fraud announcing the States had ratified so we're not supposed to have an IRS.

    That was the worst one of all 27 Amendments.

  • Brett L||

    Well, they've tried all the other avenues, and its pretty clear that they are at least a decade away from changing the Supreme Court to override Citizens United.

  • Ted S.||

    Not if one of the five who was in the majority drops dead before January 2017.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    All that says to me is that they're done disguising their aspirations for total control. The mask is off.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Yep, full-up evil dictatorship. They appear to be against ALL liberties now. I suspect they will implode.

  • Restoras||

    I dunno. They are behaving like a cornered animal, and they wield a lot of power and influence.

  • Zeb||

    They no it has no hope of being adopted. It's just to stir up the base before the election.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    That's the truly disturbing part. Proposing the gutting of the most central part of the 1st Amendment is seen by the Blue Team as a useful get-out-the-vote operation.

  • Redmanfms||

    That's the truly disturbing part. Proposing the gutting of the most central part of the 1st Amendment is seen by the Blue Team as a useful get-out-the-vote operation.

    At this point, I seriously doubt the immense gulf between "left" and "right" in this country is possible to bridge because of how completely incompatible and disparate the two world views are.

    I see this eventually resulting in bloodshed, and likely within my lifetime.

  • Restoras||

    I see this eventually resulting in bloodshed, and likely within my lifetime.

    I think the probability of this is low, but also a lot higher than 20 years ago. Regardless I hope it doesn't happen.

  • Zeb||

    I see this eventually resulting in bloodshed, and likely within my lifetime.

    I doubt that will happen. I think most people don't actually give much of a shit and just use politics as social signaling.

  • Redmanfms||

    I doubt that will happen. I think most people don't actually give much of a shit and just use politics as social signaling.

    I kind of wonder how much you circulate with real people instead of on social media, and where you live.

    Some of the things I hear at backyard BBQs get pretty "sporty" when things turn to politics.

    People are starting see the very real possibility of a real reduction in quality of life for themselves and their children. You start threatening peoples' quality of life and they do funny shit. Hell, Americans were pretty damned wealthy before the Revolution (especially when compared to Brits in Britain proper). There was nothing magically different about people then v. now.

    I don't necessarily think it will devolve into an all-out civil war, but armed skirmishes, midnight murders, disappearances, and the like I think are entirely possible. I don't think it will fall along political lines either (though it might), but between government employee and citizen, or rural v. urban, or some mix of those things.

  • Uncle Joe||

    "I doubt that will happen. I think most people don't actually give much of a shit and just use politics as social signaling."

    I wouldn't dismiss people as not caring, but much of the posturing is about social affirmation. Why else come & post where almost everyone agrees on almost everything?

    Anyone who thinks violence is going to solve any issue is mentally unstable. Killing the Archduke rarely works out for the assassin or his cause. But, it's not just the big, bad, Government pushing people around. It's a whole lot of your own countrymen. When you resort to killing them to advance your views, you've lost even if you win.

    Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

  • ant1sthenes||

    I think there's a non-negligible chance it will result in bloodshed within most of our lifetimes, barring anyone with terminal cancer. Let the government attack anti-immigration protestors while some of the immigrants commit serious crimes, let the the released Taliban commanders scores some big wins against the U.S, let militia groups push the government until it carries out another Waco; we're about one or two black swan events away from a civil war as it stands, and the political leadership seems intent on pushing things even in farther in that direction.

    Maybe they think they've built the federal paramilitary forces and bought off enough local police to win that war. They might be right, but even then, I don't know that total power will be worth the price that they pay to get it when all is said and done.

  • Zeb||

    I think you overestimate people's willingness to fight. Shit has to get really bad before people will risk their own, and their families' security and safety. A lot of things are getting bad, but they have gotten a lot worse in a lot of places that didn't descend into bloody civil war.

    We may well see more small scale bloodshed, but most people won't give a fuck, or they'll be mad on the internet and then forget it.

  • Robert||

    I think you overestimate people's willingness to fight. Shit has to get really bad before people will risk their own, and their families' security and safety.


    That's true, which is why the likeliest scenarios would not be battles but covert attacks such as poisonings, booby traps, shooting from great distances, and dronings, so the perpetrators won't be known, and preferably it won't even be obvious it was a murder. People will kill without raising suspicion of themselves; rather, they will raise suspicion of everybody. People will wonder about many deaths as to whether they were deliberate.

  • Uncle Joe||

    In other words, terrorism. Nice.

  • Robert||

    If it's mass bloodshed, it'll be along race lines. Otherwise only assassinations of the few.

  • Robert||

    In other words, a rerun of the 1960s.

  • Restoras||

    That's a good point, Zeb, but how many of the senators that are co-sponsors are up for re-election? Or do you think all of them are doing this to...do what? Help take back the House?

  • Zeb||

    I think the House is probably part of it. It's another good issue to rile up the low information base in case the "war on women" crap isn't enough.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    They appear to be against ALL liberties now. I suspect they will implode.

    I predict they will continue to win a shitload of elections. Because Kultur Wahr and Free Shit.

  • ImanAzol||

    You poor, sweet, naive man.

    You must realize this is because of the evils of the Bush administration, and those Teahadi fuckers and those dogshit libertoonians must be shut up to save America.

    Speech is only free when it isn't hate speech.

  • Zeb||

    If they were just proposing a law that said that, I'd agree, but amending the constitution is part of the constitution and there is no limit or guideline for what can be amended.

    If their constituents were not insane, they'd all be calling for their resignations and none of them would have any hope of reelection. But we know how likely that is.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    These people can no longer call themselves liberals, even in the modern sense of the word (rather than the proper, classical sense). Progressive-authoritarian (do I repeat myself?) is apt.

  • Redmanfms||

    These people can no longer call themselves liberals, even in the modern sense of the word (rather than the proper, classical sense). Progressive-authoritarian (do I repeat myself?) is apt.

    Prog-statist is the modern sense of the word.

  • Restoras||

    Smiley-faced fascists.

  • The Last American Hero||

    I guess they read Animal Farm as an instruction manual.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I doubt they've read it at all. Seriously, do you think Schumer has ever read a book?

  • Brandon||

    I'd be sad if he hasn't. His tits are too good a book rest not to use them.

  • ||

    That's where he sits his tub of Ben & Jerry's.

  • croaker||

    He can read, but his lips move.

  • Tim||

    If you want a picture of the future Winston, imagine a butter soft Italian leather $5,000 dollar shoe stamping on a human face forever.

  • WTF||

    Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.


    - John Derbyshire

  • Lord Humungus||

    There is a song called "Cozy Prisons" which makes me think of the modern socialist state.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEJFF57YuGQ

    Trigger Warning: A-Ha

  • Juice||

  • Redmanfms||

    The amendment—which was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and has 45 cosponsors so far, all of them Democrats

    How completely unsurprising.

    My cousin constantly tells me how the DNC is the party of civil liberties and that if I really cared about them I would vote D.

    I just sent this article to her. I can't wait to see how she responds. I know it's going to be some Harrison Bergeron-esque "we must limit some people because other people have louder voices" bullshit, but it might be mildly entertaining to see how she spins it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Which civil liberties? Absolutely not speech or free exercise of religion. Clearly not the right to bear arms. Almost never the rights against unreasonable search and seizure and self-incrimination.

    Maybe the Third Amendment?

  • Brandon||

    They want a softer, cuddlier drug war and the right to vote multiple times.

  • Los Doyers||

    Vote Monk-Tammany
    http://youtu.be/B9eL-4F8lFc

  • Robert||

    You know—the liberty to:

    be served by any business on a non-discriminatory basis;

    vote, including voting in any party's primary you want;

    go into any church you want & do anything you want there, any time;

    smoke pot, but not use any other recreational substance, anywhere;

    enforce on employers the terms of your employment.

  • ||

    Not to mention:

    dictate to your landlord how much rent you should pay

    violate the rights of anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable, othered, or triggered

    determine what the best use is of everyone else's property

    decide how much everyone else should pay for their liberal arts education

    and, of course, to complain loudly that, "I didn't mean that!" when the iron law turns the tables on them

  • Sevo||

    ..."see how she spins it."

    Some variation on "KOCH BROS!!!!!!!!!!"

  • anon||

    This power includes, but is not limited to, imposing limits on campaign contributions, campaign spending, and independent spending in support of or in opposition to candidates for office.

    At least we'd guarantee that we get only the best, most conniving cheating liars and thieves to rule us.

  • Real American||

    A political ideology that depends on silencing all opposing and alternative views isn't worth shit and cannot withstand close scrutiny. The left is intellectually bankrupt. This proposed amendment is just more proof of that.

  • anon||

    Unfortunately, value is subjective, and the parasite class keeps growing.

  • Lord Humungus||

    what could possibly go wrong?

  • Restoras||

    Hey, not everyone has a bullhorn mounted to their post-apocalypse Outback kit car.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    [Googles "car-mounted bullhorn"]

  • Dave Krueger||

    This is a good example why the idea that it's government's job to protect our rights is such idiocy. This notion is particularly popular with libertarians.

    The job of protecting rights falls squarely and totally on the citizenry. Call it an inalienable responsibility.

    The government cannot be a protector of rights because they are, and always will be, the biggest threat to rights. Unfortunately, because of their ignorance, citizens are only marginally capable of protecting their own freedom.

  • Restoras||

    The government cannot be a protector of rights because they are, and always will be, the biggest threat to rights. Unfortunately, because of their our ignorance, citizens are only marginally capable of protecting their own freedom.

    My only quibble.

    Unfortunately, in my estimation not enough people are familiar enough with human history to understand that the freedoms we enjoy - less and less, of course - are an aberration. Nearly everyone I know thinks 'it can't happen here', or 'we've progressed beyond those ways of doing things', or flat out have no clue that tyranny and authoritarian governments are by far more representative of human history than democratic republics.

  • Horatio||

    Welcome to the All Hope Is Lost wing of the libertarian Fun House! Our official song is whatever the little ensemble played as the Titanic was sinking. Our official handshake is a drunken nod from across the bar.

  • Restoras||

    I hope that we at least have many types of beer on tap?

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Me thinks you miss the point. The ONLY legitimate function of government is to protect the rights of the individual. It is when they are granted ANY power beyond this they become a threat.

    AND

    Please note, no one said ONLY government can protect individual rights. Of course it's still up to the people to protect their own rights. Which includes ensuring the government doesn't claim more power than it is granted.

  • ImanAzol||

    It is up to the citizenry to periodically exterminate the government, as one does with cockroaches.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Amazingly enough, the two Democratic Senators from Virginia abstained from this one.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Whenever I hear the word "equality", I reach for my revolver...

  • Brandon||

    Makes sense. The revolver was what brought about equality, after all.

  • Rev-Match||

    If God made Man, Sam Colt made them equal.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    Evil party's gonna evil.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Wow, the Democrats really are scared shitless of getting their asses handed to them at the polls.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "That is not the intent of the amendment's backers, of course. What they have in mind is a legal regime in which certain speakers are legally privileged while others are subject to minute regulation aimed at ensuring that they do not exercise undue influence, as determined by legislators and bureaucrats—all in the name of "political equality."

    In short they are Communist traitors.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    In the context of the First Amendment, "the press" refers to a technology of mass communication, not to a privileged subset of the people who use that technology.

    I don't think most people, including Congress, understand this.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    It's not a matter of understanding. They fundamentally disagree.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    Ya know how we say if the 2A only applies to muskets, then the 1A only applies to manual printing presses? I guess they took us at our word.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    With props to some idiot Dailykos poster:

    I know this has been said many times but it is worth repeating. The First Second Amendment was written during the times of manual presses and pamphleteers muskets and black powder , single shot pistols. Anyone trying to extrapolate the meaning of the First Second Amendment with regards to any modern media firearms besides the ones that existed at the time is pure speculation. In the same context that a black person was only counted as 3/5th's of a person in the same era, the First Second Amendment does not apply to the media arms of today for the simple fact that they didn't exist when the First Second Amendment was written. Whether the First Second Amendment was actually written to keep Congress from limiting speech a well regulated militia is irrelevant when the simple fact of the press gun control issue is that the speech guns being talked about in the First Second Amendment was limited by the capabilities of the time were single shot muzzleloaders. I don't think any American would object to the right to artisanal printing presses and pamphleteering bear those arms.
  • Mickey Rat||

    You think that is funny, but that was part of the rationale in the 20's for the creation of the FCC.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I'm well aware.

  • Restoras||

    That's frightening. Chilling, even. I wonder what kind of fits that would send the KosKlowns into?

  • Mickey Rat||

    "advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all."

    That is the problem with valuing equality over liberty. Equality of result can only practically be achieved by limiting everyone to the lowest common denominator. To do that the liberty to use your own resources as you see fit must be crushed. Of course, there will be bizarre definitions which provide exceptions to these rules, like treating "the press" to mean a profession rather than the instrumentality of creating mass media.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    I have a question:

    What, exactly, is "political equality"? Can anyone define this?

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    People who represent 99% of the population, because they say so, get 99% of the power.

  • Mickey Rat||

    It does not have an exact meaning but it does not need to for the Udalls and Wydens of the political world to invoke it.

    To put it simply though. If John has x resources to spend on his political interests and Joe has y and xy, then it is unfair to Joe to let John spend all his resources on his political interests. Especially if Joe is a leftist and John I a rightist.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "xy" is supposed to be read "x greater than y".

  • Zeb||

    What, exactly, is "political equality"? Can anyone define this?

    I'll give it a shot:

    Everyone gets one vote and gets to use whatever resources they have available to communicate on political subjects as they see fit.

    Sounds like a pretty good definition to me. Most D senators don't seem to agree with me, though.

  • ImanAzol||

    It means betas think their opinion matters.

    You should metaphorically piss in their faces when they present this.

    Unless you can literally piss in their faces.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Inequality of power between rulers and ruled is the Ur Inequality from which all others spring. Any egalitarian who isn't an anarchist is a anti-egalitarian in egalitarian's clothing.

  • Curt||

    Hmm... so let's figure out how this will work out. Congress sets spending limit of $x. The Coalition for Awesome Politics supports Candidate A and raises $x. Then they spend all $x to damn Candidate B with faint praise (Candidate B hasn't been caught with a single hooker yet this year!). Because that $x was spent, "in support of," Candidate B, then Candidate B can't spend any of his own money this year without violating the spending limit for his campaign. Candidate A then does all the campaign spending he would normally do.

    On second thought, let's just propose a bill that stokes partisan fires.

  • ||

    Progressives are convinced everyone but them is a retarded dipshit who can't possibly think for themselves. They believe restaurant toys make parents buy junk food, guns make you kill, commercials make you buy things, and political ads make you vote. It's not surprising at all that they would eventually come to attack the first amendment for being a threat to freedom.

  • ||

    Like Epi says, it is absolute projection.

  • Rev-Match||

    According to 46 Senators, 'Political Equality' Means Some People Have More Freedom of Speech Than Others

    By my observation, progs have an inherent belief that some people are more equal than others, and not just with respect to speech.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    Well, they're right that some people are more equal than others.

    They're just wrong about who those people are.

  • NL_||

    Note that this amendment means that Congress or the states could legislate the amount of money you spend publishing a partisan blog or hosting a partisan-slanted debate-watching party. They can't stop you from blogging, talking, or watching, but they may be able to stop you from spending money on it.

  • Great+Grandma||

    The "People of the Lie" Party is at it again choosing people to treat as favorites while unfairly clamping down on freedom of expression for the rest of us.

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