Following up on the post below by my colleague Anthony Sanders, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s speech to the Ohio State Chapter of the American Constitution Society assailing the Citizens United ruling had a revealing theme. Much of what he said was the usual apocalyptic hysteria about the ruling that Brown has made before. However, Brown also suggested why he believed the ruling was so problematic: he believes it will make it harder to pass legislation he thinks is important. In other words, Brown believes the government must suppress speech in order to prevent some groups from interfering with his ability to get the policy outcomes he wants.
This view is not new, unfortunately. One can easily disregard Brown’s simplistic Manichean worldview, where corporations run by autocratic robber barons (undoubtedly all fat men sporting walrus mustaches and wearing waistcoats and top hats) frustrate the noble legislature’s selfless quest for social democracy by manipulating the beliefs of a sheep-like public. More fundamentally, though, it is hard to find a position more antithetical to the First Amendment than the argument, “we need to suppress speech so the government has an easier time doing what it wants.”
The First Amendment prevents the government from abridging free speech and the law at issue in Citizens United did just that—it banned books, pamphlets, advertisements, etc. because of the identity of the speaker. The fact that the Court struck down a law that silenced speakers with which government officials often disagree is precisely why the case was so important for the continued vitality of the First Amendment. Perhaps Senator Brown’s real problem with the case is that it establishes that if the First Amendment protects anything, it protects political speech—even the speech of those who disagree with wanna-be censors like Sherrod Brown.