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Amending the First Amendment   Leave a comment

When the Citizens United case stripped the state of a powerful censorship tool, many progressives began discussing amending the First Amendment.

While I don’t believe the First Amendment would be at risk of major revision in a convention of the states to propose amendments, I’ve decided to deal with the issue more squarely than when I wrote my series on this six months ago.

Autumn of 2013, Senate Democrats (Jon Tester of Montana and Chris Murphy of Connecticut) proposed a constitutional amendment as an attempt to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. FCC, which struck down restricts on political speech by corporations, unions and nonprofits. Many legal scholars at the time said that the amendment would eliminate all constitutional rights for nonprofit groups and many religious organizations. It would, some legal experts contended, also allow the National Security Agency to seize information on Americans at whim. It would have authorized Congress, states, and local governments to restrict what most newspapers publish, what most advocacy groups (including the ACLU, Sierra Club and NRA) say, restrict what is said and done by most churches, restrict the speech of labor unions, and seize the property of corporations without just compensation.

Does that sound hyperbolic? Hmmm ….

Nearly all major newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie studios, record labels and broadcasters are owned by corporations. A company cannot participate in the stock market to raise investment capital if  it’s not an organized corporation. Most nonprofit organizations are organized as corporations, including most churches (though some states allow churches to hold a special type of corporate status). Many ordinary businesses (the feed store I buy my flour and dog food at and the locally-based bookstore, for example) are corporations who would have been affected by this proposed amendment.

At least that was what was claimed –

Here’s the wording of the Joint Resolution

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to clarify the authority of Congress and the States to regulate corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state.

The following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States:

  1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.
  2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the State under this Constitution.
  3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are unalienable.

The funny thing is, philosophically, I agree with this. Corporations are not people and so should not hold individual liberty. That would be completely off the topic, however.

My point is that there are already attempts to amend the 1st Amendment. The proposal is languishing in committee and will probably never see the light the day, but if Congress passes it …

Do we seriously think that 38 states (75 separate legislative bodies) are going to ratify it?

Which is not to say that a convention of the states could not discuss whether individual rights really protect the liberties of mega-corporations. That might, given Citizens United, be a good conversation for us to have.

Our current government no longer follows the Constitution. It acts as if portions have been amended already. More tellingly, only slices of the population are up in arms about it. I’m going to go through the Bill of Rights and examine whether these acknowledgments are at any risk of being repealed or revised by a convention of the states and whether they haven’t already been effectively revised without our permission.

A convention of the states might make it clear that these rights remain with the people and Congress … and the Executive and Judicial branches — may not infringe upon our rights.

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