Now that most of the dust has settled (although in some places it is still plenty dusty), we can assess how well the First Amendment fared in this last election.
Probably the biggest news was that Russ Feingold, one of the authors of the largest legislative assaults on the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts, lost his re-election bid. (His partner in the eponymous McCain-Feingold bill, John McCain, on the other hand, easily won re-election.) Feingold was recently arguing for further restrictions on the First Amendment, urging his colleagues—in a stunning display of disregard for the Constitution and separation of powers—to further restrict free speech regardless of any “fear of the [Supreme] Court” and whether it might strike down their work as unconstitutional. This single-mindedness persisted despite the fact that McCain-Feingold was such a colossal failure in even what it was intended to do. For those that believe that the First Amendment actually means what it says, it was good news indeed that a leading voice of the “more-always-needs-to-be-done” school of campaign finance “reform” will no longer be leading further attacks on our fundamental constitutional rights (at least for the moment).
Free speech advocates could also rejoice that Rep. Alan Grayson, the Florida Congressman who called Citizens United “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case,” was involuntarily retired. Perhaps Floridians were tired of being represented by a politician who was so intemperate, insensitive, and ideologically blinkered that he could not tell the difference between a decision upholding the plain language of the First Amendment and a decision returning a human being to brutal subjugation and condemning countless African Americans to the horrors of slavery.
Turning to taxpayer-financed elections, majorities voted against ballot measures to preserve two “clean elections” systems. In
Finally, no discussion of the intersection of free speech and electoral politics would be complete without mentioning Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore). Angered that people were spending money to defeat him, he became nationally known for yelling through a mail slot at people who had the gall to exercise their First Amendment rights. DeFazio had also recently begun talking about how it might be a good idea for Congress to impeach Chief Justice Roberts for upholding First Amendment rights. DeFazio won re-election again. However, perhaps this is not a bad result for the First Amendment. DeFazio’s efforts and his reaction to being criticized demonstrates that, while much of the rhetoric from pro-regulation politicians focuses on battling corruption and cleaning up the system, the restrictions they seek are often just a means for them to silence those who oppose them—an important lesson only someone like DeFazio can really teach.