Speech Defects: How Consumer Marketing Distorts Democracy

Speech Defects: How Consumer Marketing Distorts Democracy

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia considered himself a great defender of free speech. But he was also the court's leading apostle of deciding cases according to the “original meaning” of the Constitution's framers. So imagine the difficult spot he was in on September 9, 2009, as the court heard oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case tested the FEC's efforts to uphold laws that restricted corporate expenditures and contributions in election campaigns. It arose when a secretive nonprofit front corporation called Citizens United sued in advance of the 2008 presidential primaries, contending that any attempts by the FEC to block its advertising and distribution of a documentary called Hillary: The Movie would violate its First Amendment rights.

Yet when the framers put that amendment into the Bill of Rights, writing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” they plainly intended to protect living, breathing citizens' freedom of speech and their other democratic prerogatives in their exercise of self-government.

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