Supreme Court Has Chance to Curtail McCain-Feingold

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Civil Liberties, Money, Supreme Court

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Today, the Supreme Court heard an important case that could greatly affect the McCain-Feingold campaign laws. It involves a movie highly critical of Hillary Clinton which was originally scheduled for release during the Democratic primaries but was stopped by judges concerned with its legality.

This case illustrates the inherent problems with McCain-Feingold. Namely, it forces judges to make decisions about what is and isn’t free speech. In this case, the Supreme Court must now decide the line between an allowable documentary and an illegal campaign ad.

Arguing that a movie and a campaign ad are the same could have adverse consequences for the McCain-Feingold law, Justice Anthony Kennedy said. “If we think that the application of this to a 90-minute film is unconstitutional, then the whole statute should fall,” Kennedy said.

Citizens United wanted to pay for its documentary to be shown on home video-on-demand, and for ads promoting the movie to be shown in key states while the former New York senator was competing with President Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

No one is arguing that this movie isn’t an attempt to discredit and politically damage Hillary Clinton. The question is: do the makers have a right to advertise and distribute their movie as any other movie-maker would OR are they practicing a form of restricted speech that must conform to specific rules about when and how the message can be shared?

Do we really want to be giving judges the power to decide what is and what is not allowable political speech? McCain-Feingold may have arisen from a noble enough urge (to keep money from corrupting politics) but its effect has been to dampen free speech. For those who support the law, let me ask: have elections been any “cleaner” or has money played any less of a role in the years since McCain-Feingold became law? Even if the law is, in principle, “good,” it hasn’t been good enough in practice to justify the restrictions it creates.

I doubt the Supreme Court will strike down McCain-Feingold, even if they rule in favor of Citizens United. But maybe they’ll chop away a good bit of its power. It’s a law which borders too closely on unconstitutionality for us to feel comfortable with it wielding a lot of power.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2009 and is filed under Civil Liberties, Money, Supreme Court. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Supreme Court Has Chance to Curtail McCain-Feingold”

  1. Jim S Says:

    Absolutely. Nothing is more important than making certain that corporations can spend any amount of money they want on any form of political “speech” and be able to hide their identities behind groups like Citizens United. You did realize that is the goal of the lawyers representing Citizens United, didn’t you?

  2. Rich Says:

    Yeah…those nasty, evil corporations!! Screw them!! All hail MoveOn.org, ACORN, George Soros, etc!!

    Perhaps, if the media would do their jobs, these fringe groups (on either side) would not have the influence that they currently have.

    If the media were truly unbiased and objective – meaning, they actually investigated matters, asked hard questions, impartially vetted candidates (instead of being cheerleaders) and reported facts (instead of opinions disguised as facts)….MAYBE then the people would be able to decide for themselves. Then, the hacks from either side would marginalized and irrelevant.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when “journalists” are no more than “novelists” with short attention spans….

  3. kranky kritter Says:

    If it gets struck down, I seriously doubt any of us would really miss it.

    The thing with a movie like this one is that its very unlikely to make up very many minds. For all the resources, angst, and anger that go in to them , they mostly end up being preaching to the faithful.

    Seriously, who is going to watch a lengthy one-sided screed against someone like Hillary Clinton but someone who is already a hater?

    I don’t doubt that much of McC-F was well-intentioned, but I don’t think it hit the mark, and I really don’t like imagining where this could be headed. I imagine armies of the opposing faithful patrolling youtube and initiating lawsuits. Yikes!

    Put me firmly in the “more speech” camp.

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