Op-Ed: ‘Citizens United’ decision not as consequential as it seems

by Lanny Davis
The Daily Caller
February 4, 2010

“It is my belief that there are ‘absolutes’ in the Bill of Rights and they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be absolutes….[The first Amendment] provides, in simple words, that ‘Congress make no law…abridging the freedom of speech or the press. I read ‘no law abridging” to mean ‘no law abridging.’” the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black

On first reading the Supreme Court’s Jan. 21 decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overruled provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act that criminalized union and corporate public advocacy advertisements urging the election or defeat of a federal candidate within 30-60 days of the election, I thought of my favorite quote—the one above—from my favorite Supreme Court Justice of all, Hugo Black.

Writing for the 5-4 majority in Citizens United, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s words were consistent with Justice Black’s famous strict construction, “absolutist” First Amendment philosophy. “Under our laws and our traditions, it seems stranger than fiction for our government to make political speech a crime,” Justice Kennedy wrote. There is “no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Moreover, as the writer of a column called “Purple Nation,” if ever there was a “purple,” “Blue-Red” group of supporters of the majority’s decision—liberal groups such as the ACLU and the AFL-CIO, and conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—this is it…

…my hunch that the Citizens United decision is probably going to have a lot less dire effects than liberal Democrats have publicly predicted, and a lot less favorable effects that conservative Republicans are privately saying…

The complete op-ed can be read at The Daily Caller.

Mr. Davis, a Washington, D.C., attorney, served as President Clinton’s Special Counsel and a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07.

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