April 13, 2014 Print
    

I-1329: Amend the First Amendment?

A group of corporations is raising money for a political campaign to get corporate money out of political campaigns. The national group is called Move to Amend, and its Washington state arm is running an initiative that would call on Congress to rewrite the First Amendment. While I-1329 would do nothing on its own, it’s always worth taking note when a not-insignificant number of people come together in hopes of rewriting parts of the Constitution. In the case of Move to Amend, the effort is notable both for its hypocrisy and its ignorance.

As of its most recent reports, the Washington State Coalition to Amend the Constitution has raised $24,355 and collected more than 30,000 signatures (246,372 valid signatures must be submitted by June 25 for an initiative to get on this November’s ballot). It’s list of endorsing organizations includes a witch’s brew of radical progressive corporations and more mainstream Democrat Party corporations. Its members are similar, ranging from Occupy Bellingham to the West Seattle Democratic Women.

Move to Amend’s talking points offer a litany of citations to court decisions, perhaps to avoid the two basic facts at issue — the meaning of the First Amendment and the definition of “corporation.”

A “corporation” can be a legally authorized group of people or simply any “group of people acting as one body.” Churches, labor unions, charities, mom-and-pop businesses and giant banks are all corporations in both senses. In fact, the more formal corporations (the legal kind) are subgroups of the more general form of a group of people acting toward a common purpose. 

The idea that people lose, or ought to lose, their rights because they associate together simply makes no sense. It certainly does not come from the text of the First Amendment, which says,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is a broad limit on government power, and it says nothing about who might be the subject of that power—the limit is not limited to, say, “natural-born citizens.” It certainly says nothing about applying only to persons alone, as opposed to persons in a group.

More to the point is the reference to “the press.” When the First Amendment was written, the press was full of corporate advertising and political messages (these were often scathing). Many newspapers existed largely to carry forth the political biases of the publisher, who was invariably a person wealthy enough to own and operate a printing press.

Nothing changed in the 19th Century. In fact, Olympia’s own Washington Democrat newspaper offers a classic example of an openly partisan media corporation. It’s full of blatantly biased coverage, attacking Republicans at every turn. And it’s full of advertisements for everything from pharmaceuticals (“If you are sick, read this!”) to jewelry.

The i-1329 campaign disregards all these facts when it claims,

The independent press, once focused on finding and analyzing important election and legislation information for citizens, has been steadily taken over by large media enterprises whose primary goal is increasing profits....

This is a myth that can exist only in the absence of basic knowledge of American history. It also betrays a dangerous denial of human nature, the fact that everyone has their own balance of passions and reason, as well as a capacity for self-deception. A press that claims to be unbiased is more dangerous than one that acknowledges that journalists and publishers have their own interests and opinions.

Move to Amend is likely to make a lot of motion but little progress toward its goal of rewriting the First Amendment. Nevertheless, Americans who do respect the Constitution and its protections of individual liberty must work constantly to defend those laws and ideals against such challenges.

Author

Trent England

Executive Vice President

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