House Democrats’ astonishing contempt for free speech

By Dave Andrusko

Earlier today, NRLC issued a blistering critique of the Democrat-controlled House’s 234-193 vote in support of H.R. 1. We are only two months into the new Congress, and H.R. 1 may have already won the “Euphemism-of-the-Year” award for the bill’s title: “For the People Act of 2019.”

Of course, the bill has nothing to do with “the people” and everything to do with Democrats’ habitual desire to stifle anyone from commenting on their batty legislative proposals.

And as part of the charade, Democrats piously insisted this is an attempt to curb “corruption.” But, as NRLC aptly pointed out, H.R. 1 is itself a type of corruption: “an abuse of the lawmaking power, by which incumbent lawmakers employ the threat of criminal sanctions, among other deterrents, to reduce the amount of private speech regarding the actions of the lawmakers themselves.”

Three quick points.

First, the Supreme Court, in a series of First Amendment decisions going back to the 1970s, has clearly protected political speech. Democrats have never been happy with this. So what happened today is part of long narrative.

Second, this is about the power of incumbents to attempt to intimidate organizations, such as National Right to Life, and their donors! Eric Wang’s piece titled “For the People Act” Replete with Provisions for the Politicians,” observes

The right to associate oneself with a nonprofit group’s mission and to support the group financially in private is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment that the government may not abridge casually. This is particularly true when the cause is contentious, such as abortion, gun control, LGBTQ rights, or civil rights, and association with either side on any of these issues may subject a member or donor to retaliation, harassment, threats, and even physical attack, as recent events have tragically reminded us. The potential divisiveness of these issues does not diminish their social importance and the need to hash out these debates in public while preserving donors’ privacy.

3. On this issue, the ACLU is spot on. After talking about portions of the bill it likes, it quickly adds

However, there are also provisions that unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations. They will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.

Remember, while the ACLU is extremely pro-abortion, it understands that the bill would impede the ability of those organizations it agrees with to get their message out as well as the ACLU itself.

The “upshot” of the Act, the ACLU wrote,

and the essence of why we oppose it, is that it would chill the speech of issue advocacy groups and non-profits such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or the NRA that is essential to our public discourse and protected by the First Amendment. These groups need the freedom to name candidates when discussing issues like abortion, health care, criminal justice reform, tax reform, and immigration and to urge candidates to take positions on those issues or criticize them for failing to do so. The Act interferes with that ability by impinging on the privacy of donors to these groups, forcing the groups to make a choice: their speech or their donors. Whichever the chose, the First Amendment loses.

Shame on House Democrats.