The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document, including the United States’ supreme law. The Constitution initially paved the way for 13 diverse colonies to come together and form a Federation by preserving rights of each colony (state). Its fair and stable legal platform played a huge role in the Country’s success.
Amending the Constitution was purposely made difficult to inhibit changes made on the political whims of populists. Amendments require the calling of a Constitutional Convention or two thirds supermajorities in both houses of Congress. Still, the Constitution has been amended 27 times by Congress, including the pivotal Bill of Rights with its 10 amendments made in 1791.
The First Amendment under the Bill of Rights states:
“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.”
The First Amendment, free speech has come under attack in recent years through the use of political correctness with its social pressures. More recently, some on the Left have been more transparent in efforts to inhibit speech with increased ferocity since Donald Trump’s election.
This Blogger recently discussed the First Amendment with a slightly left-of-center acquaintance who would curtail speech in the name of public safety. In justifying the control of speech, he used the example of crying fire in a crowded movie theater and its risk of creating injury. He equates this example to those who take an anti-illegal immigrant philosophy in America, believing that it leads to attacks on immigrants or aliens. This author believes the comparison is a canard used to curtail the discussion of disagreeable ideas.
Inhibiting free speech, either through social pressures or the legal system, is a slippery slope traveled in the past. McCarthyism was a hammer used by the Right to inhibit the speech of liberals in the 1950s. A similar tactic is now in vogue by the Left, but for a different political agenda. For those who dare to discuss immigration policy, religion security issues, sexual mores, or social benefits, for example, are microphone labeled bigots, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or as Hillary said, “deplorable”.
The key issue with any attack on free speech should be how do we choose who gets to determine what constitutes calling the fire in a theater? Should the curtailing be to the benefit of ones’ political views, they are more likely to agree with the First Amendment attack. However, sooner or later the opposing side gains power and that is why the slippery-slope should concern all, irrespective of political views.
In a relevant example, a few years ago Harry Reid used the nuclear option in the Senate to allow Democrats to use a simple majority to get Obama appointments approved quickly. Previously this required a 60-vote Senate majority. Reid justified this drastic action claiming the Republicans to be the “party of no”, inferring that the step was required to keep government moving. Obama and fellow Liberals were all too happy to go along, irrespective of future consequences. Now, Trump and the Republicans have the use the nuclear option and the Democrats are screaming.
The Senate’s 60 vote requirement was created to make political appointments bipartisan, not easy. Similar to the Second Amendment, this rule had the long-term good of the Country behind it, with the goal of further legitimizing presidential power. The nuclear option has increased polarization and the divide in the Country and government. Instead of looking to Reid’s or Obama’s role in increasing political divisiveness, Trump is demonized for appointments.
Americans on the Left and Right would do well to look at the Constitution is a set of laws created to protect the long-term interest of all. Those that would mold it to fit their short-term agendas do so at the peril of their own future rights.