The first amendment protects our right to free speech. Does that right extend to groups that we join comprised of like-minded people?
During the midst of the civil rights struggle of the 1950s, the state of Alabama decided that the NAACP was stirring up too much trouble. The state went to court to kick the NAACP out of Alabama, using a variety of arguments and legal maneuvers, including a subpoena for the NAACP’s membership lists.
The NAACP brought a countersuit, NAACP v. Alabama. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of the NAACP’s right to continue operating in Alabama. Furthermore, the Court held that “freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the ‘advancement of beliefs and ideas’ is an inseparable part of the the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Makes sense to me.
But, as George Will points out, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and legions of others think that such protection should NOT be extended to groups involved in political campaigns.
Under a logic that escapes me, the opponents of collective free speech in political campaigns (isn’t that a venue where we want to maximize free speech?), think that the Supreme Court’s 1958 NAACP v. Alabama decision is wonderful, but that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government can’t stop non-profit groups from spending their money to express their opinions in political campaigns, is egregiously unfair and awful.
Would I prefer that less “group” money be spent in political campaigns? Probably. I also would prefer that we Americans spend less money on our pets and more on charitable causes.
Should the government regulate our spending on political campaigns or our pets? No.
Free speech in a democracy, particularly in political campaigns, is not limited to individuals standing on street corners shouting their ideas or tweeting their ideas on Twitter. Free speech includes banding together with others, raising money, and spending money on advertising. This is a liberty that is worth the abuses and ugliness that come along with it.
If Bernie and Hillary don’t like it, they should propose an amendment to the Constitution that makes an exception to free speech that prohibits campaign spending by groups. Then, the stakes will be out in the open for all to see and debate.