Justice Douglas on campaign finance reform (and Citizens United?)

Justice William O. Douglas, one of the Supreme Court’s great liberals, dissenting in United States v. United Auto Workers, 352 U.S. 567 (1957):

The principle at stake is not peculiar to unions. It is applicable as well to associations of manufacturers, retail and wholesale trade groups, consumers’ leagues, farmers’ unions, religious groups and every other association representing a segment of American life and taking an active part in our political campaigns and discussions.  It is as important an issue as has come before the Court, for it reaches the very vitals of our system of government.

Under our Constitution it is We The People who are sovereign … It is therefore important—vitally important—that all channels of communication be open to them during every election, that no point of view be restrained or barred, and that the people have access to the views of every group in the community.

In United States v. CIO, Mr. Justice Rutledge spoke of the importance of the First Amendment rights—freedom of expression and freedom or assembly—to the integrity of our elections.  “The most complete exercise of those rights,” he said, “is essential to the full, fair and untrammeled operation of the electoral process.  To the extent they are curtailed the electorate is deprived of information, knowledge, and opinion vital to its function.”

What the Court does today greatly impairs those rights.  It sustains an indictment charging no more than the use of union funds for broadcasting television programs that urge and endorse the selection of certain candidates for the Congress of the United States.  The opinion of the Court places that advocacy in the setting of corrupt practices.  the opinion generates an environment of evil-doing…

[E]ndorsing a candidate for office does not, however, deserve to be identified with anti-social conduct.  Until today political speech has never been considered a crime.  The making of a political speech up to now has always been one of the preferred rights protected by the First Amendment.  It usually cost money to communicate an idea to a large audience. But no one would seriously contend that the expenditure of money to print a newspaper deprives the publisher of freedom of the press.  Nor can the fact that it costs money to make a speech—whether it be hiring a hall or purchasing time on the air—make the speech any the less an exercise of First Amendment rights….” 

Compare that to the rhetoric of most liberals today, which consists of long-winded rationalizations for regulating political speech, or to the hysterical reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which essentially adopts the position outlined by Justice Douglas (joined by another pair of liberal icons, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Hugo Black) in Auto Workers.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.