Tuesday, April 24, 2012

National Review makes the case against amending the First Amendment

In an editorial against the terrible idea of amending the First Amendment, the Editors of National Review write:

The phrase “stunning development” is used far too often in our politics, but here is an item that can be described in no other way: . . . congressional Democrats, frustrated by the fact that the Bill of Rights interferes with their desire to muzzle their political opponents, have proposed to repeal the First Amendment.

That is precisely what the so-called People’s Rights Amendment would do. If this amendment were to be enacted, the cardinal rights protected by the First Amendment — free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances — would be redefined and reduced to the point of unrecognizability. The amendment would hold that the rights protected by the Constitution are enjoyed only by individuals acting individually; individuals acting in collaboration with others would be stripped of those rights. . . .

The so-called People’s Rights Amendment would have some strange consequences: Newspapers, television networks, magazines, and online journalism operations typically are incorporated. So are political parties and campaign committees, to say nothing of nonprofits, business associations, and the like. Under the People’s Rights Amendment, Thomas Friedman would still enjoy putative First Amendment protection, but it would not do him much good inasmuch as the New York Times Company, being a corporation, would no longer be protected by the First Amendment. . . .

One of the great dangers of such efforts to regulate political speech is that it puts incumbents in charge of setting the rules of the game under which their power and their position may be challenged. That is a recipe for abuse and corruption, and for smothering those critics who would draw attention to abuse and corruption.