Taking the floor of the Senate to debate a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz laid out an ironic case. The amendment, which would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, has been championed by Democrat Senator Al Franken. The junior senator from Minnesota, who faces his first attempt at re-election this year, built his name working as a comic performer on Saturday Night Live. Yet, if Franken’s proposed constitutional amendment enabling arbitrary limitations upon corporate speech were to be ratified, SNL’s political satire – a staple of the program for decades – could potentially become illegal.
Cruz goes on to compare the proposed speech limitations to the banning of books, stating that “advocates of government power, statists, have long favored silencing the citizenry.” It shouldn’t surprise us then, Cruz argues, that “the party of government power over every aspect of our lives would take [that idea] to the final conclusion of giving government the power to silence political speech and to [effectively] ban books.”
Cruz strikes the right tone with his incisive remarks. Indeed, the intended effect of Franken’s proposed amendment is the restriction of both speech and association, sacred freedoms protected by the First Amendment. “Money isn’t speech,” the argument goes, a strawman which imagines that someone somewhere thinks cash is literally a statement. Yet, the effect of restricting campaign spending is unquestionably restricting speech.
In his advocacy for the amendment, Senator Franken likes to wield anti-corporate rhetoric, as if corporations are alien invaders from another planet rather than the collective agency of several individuals exercising their rights as human beings. Like the “money isn’t speech” strawman, we constantly here some variation upon “I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.” Yet, not one person anywhere has ever claimed that a corporation is a literal natural person. Instead, the claim of corporate personhood has always been that, as a product of voluntary contractual agreement between individuals with rights, corporations ought to be regarded as persons under the law. But hey, when you’re out to “ban books” as Cruz puts it, you’re probably not going to let little facts like that get in the way of an effective piece of fraudulent rhetoric.
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