Jul 10 2014
Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Grassley, Members of the Committee: each one of us, upon arrival to the United States Senate, swore a sacred oath—to ourselves, to each other, and to our fellow Americans—pledging to defend and support the Constitution of the United States.
In taking this oath, before God and country, each of us made a solemn promise to be bound—above all other loyalties and partialities—by our allegiance to the Constitution.
We do this because we are made free by God, but it is this document, and our commitment to uphold it, that keeps us free.
I am deeply dismayed that today, we gather here to consider a proposal—S. J. Res 19—that would considerably weaken the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The primary argument in support of this amendment is that “money isn’t speech.” Of course money is not the same thing as speech. Money is simply a tool used to carry out other activities.
But if Congress had the power to restrict the use of money to speak, the exercise of that power would unavoidably interfere with people’s ability to speak.
Freedom of speech is not simply one among many liberties protected in the Bill of Rights—it is absolutely essential to the health of our Republic. This is especially true of political speech, even when it contradicts the prevailing order.
As Justice Powell put it in Gertz v. Welch (1974): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”
But it doesn’t take a complicated constitutional exposition to see what this proposed amendment is really about: power…giving it to sitting Members of Congress and taking it away from the American people, including, not coincidentally, any potential candidate that might like to challenge a sitting Member of Congress.
As we have seen in the unfolding scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, there is a permanent temptation facing those in power to muzzle dissent—and a permanent inclination to deceive oneself into thinking that such a temptation does not exist.
This is precisely why we have a written Constitution that checks those in authority and prevents the kind of proposal represented here today.
In Federalist 51, James Madison, the lead author of our Constitution, anticipated debates in which we’re engaged today, and he makes perfectly clear the folly of an amendment such as S. J. Res 19.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” Madison wrote. “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
One of the most important of such “auxiliary precautions” is the First Amendment and its protections of the freedom of speech.
The proposed amendment would cripple this protection and irrevocably damage our most precious possession as Americans: our freedom.
For these reasons, I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in voting against the proposed amendment.