A BILL TO CODIFY, GUARD, AND BOLSTER FREE SPEECH RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION, CIVIL RIGHTS, AND HUMAN RIGHTS
COMMITTEE OF THE JUDICIARY
ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
ANTHONY NICHOLS, Utah, Chairman
ERICK TORENBURG, Indiana
OLIVIA BROWNING, Massachusetts
TINA CHO, California
TRENT SORIAH, North Carolina
ERIN SWAN, Louisiana
HENRY BLACKBURN, New York
DAVID NYUAN, Ohio
SUSANA CUERO, New Jersey
DANIEL FRANKLIN, Montana
JOSHUA SIA, Alabama
Holly Strontson JSD, President, The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies
Truman Eddlebom JSD, President, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
Oscar Entitleton, Director, The Private Research Institute for Constitutional Knowledge (PRICK)
MR. NICHOLS. Good afternoon. Is everyone present and seated? Ok, great. Let’s get started. I call the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights to order. Today we will be discussing and debating S.R. 1887, a bill to formally codify the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 2010 court decision into federal law.
I will recognize myself for the opening statement.
The Citizens United case has become a highly controversial and polarizing topic. However, I expect this hearing to proceed in a civil and genteel manner. Everyone will have an equal opportunity to express his or her views. I have no doubt that the subcommittee will take all factors into account before coming up with an informed and impartial conclusion.
I recognize the senator from Louisiana, and the bill’s author, Ms. Swan.
MS. SWAN. Thank you Mr. Nichols. Good afternoon everybody. I’d like to begin with a brief overview of the Citizens United case and how its decision has been blown out of proportion by a select collection of prejudiced and ill-informed interest groups.
The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech as well as “the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances” to all American citizens. This means that they can express their opinions to the government and their fellow citizens in whatever manner they see fit without fear of persecution.
If one American citizen is protected by the First Amendment, then so are organizations of two, or three, or ten, or a hundred citizens that happen believe in the same cause. Under its protection, people that have coalesced around a certain issue can organize themselves and air their opinions in a free and open manner.
What are corporations, ladies and gentlemen, if not groups of hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of American citizens? Are they not allowed to present their complaints? Are they not allowed the same rights that a single American citizen is afforded?
The Citizens United Supreme Court decision emphatically stated that they are. Its ruling conclusively decided that the U.S. government cannot discount the opinions of an organization simply because it makes a profit. Therefore, all corporations have been awarded the same rights to free speech as ordinary citizens, essentially making them persons in the eyes of the law.
These corporations—or persons—have the freedom to express themselves as they wish. Many have chosen to manifest that freedom by donating money to politicians they believe will rectify their problems. This effectively equates money to freedom of speech. Because the First Amendment states that the government cannot limit a person’s right to free speech, then the government also cannot limit the amount of money a corporation donates to whatever causes it sees fit—including the causes of political candidates.
Well then, if corporations are persons, and money is free speech, then it only makes sense that persons with more money should naturally be given more free speech.
That is why I have authored S.R. 1887. If enacted into law, this bill would codify and streamline the amount of time American citizens are allowed to petition their public officials based upon a straightforward mathematical calculation.
This calculation is founded on a 10,000 to one ratio. Quite simply, if an American citizen makes $10,000 a year before taxes, then he or she is afforded 1 second per year to petition any municipal, county, state, or federal elected official. Likewise, if a citizen makes $20,000, then he or she is afforded 2 seconds. If $30,000, then three seconds. And so on and so forth.
MR. NICHOLS. And what of the charge that this bill would severely curtail the First Amendment rights of the vast majority of the American citizenry to the benefit of a very select few at the top of the economic ladder?
MS. SWAN. Well, whoever’s leveled that charge clearly hasn’t taken the time to give S.R. 1887 even a glancing look.
Pure and simple, it would not infringe on anyone’s freedom of speech. People making $7,000 a year could still say what they like to their neighbors, relatives, friends, whatever. They could spend every waking moment starting a newsletter, organizing a march, writing letters to the editor, I don’t know, anything they could possibly want without fear of retaliation. The only thing S.R. 1887 would do is limit the amount of time they could spend speaking to us.
Practicality states that we, as elected officials, cannot afford to sit down with everyone in our state for an unlimited amount of time. We would never get anything done! We’d cease to be legislators and turn into guidance counselors! We have to parcel our time between duties in the committees, debates on the floor of the Senate, and listening to our constituents. This bill would allow us to do just that—based on a decision of our unbiased and transparent judicial system.
What’s more, S.R. 1887 would ensure all our constituents absolute freedom when they do get to talk to us. There would be no restrictions on the volume, speed, language, or content of what they say, regardless of how much money they make. Just on the time.
MR. NICHOLS. Thank you Ms. Swan. I recognize the senator from Montana, Mr. Franklin.
MR. FRANKLIN. I’d like to add an amendment to S.R. 1887 stating that American citizens would only be allowed to speak to us in American—not in any other foreign language.
MS. SWAN. I don’t have a problem with that.
MR. NICHOLS. Very well. Let the record show that an amendment stating that only English…
MR. FRANKLIN. I said “American.”
MR. NICHOLS. Ok. Let the record show that an amendment has been added to S.R. 1887 stating that the only recognized language U.S. citizens can use when addressing their elected officials is “American.”
MS. SWAN. Great.
MR. FRANKLIN. Perfect.
MR. NICHOLS. Does anyone else on the subcommittee have further comments or revisions they would like to forward?
Let’s keep going then. I will now open the chamber to the witnesses before us.
Mr. Entitleton, the floor is yours. Please tell us something about your organization you represent, and what its perspective is on S.R. 1887.
MR. ENTITLETON. My pleasure. Before I begin, I would like to make it perfectly clear that the person I represent is The Private Research Institute for Constitutional Knowledge.
MR. NICHOLS. And you are the president of said person, correct?
MR. ENTITLETON. I am more than just the president. I am a PRICK member and activist to my very core. I hold the PRICK mantra so close and so emphatically that people sometimes call me Mr. PRICK.
MR. NICHOLS. I see. Please continue, Mr. PRICK.
MR. ENTITLETON. Thank you, senator. PRICK is a privately operated and funded person that conducts research and surveys on what effects the correct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution has on government and everyday American life.
He has just finished…
MR. NICHOLS. Wait, I’m sorry. He?
MR. ENTITLETON. Yes, he. PRICK is a male person.
MR. NICHOLS. Aha.
MR. ENTITLETON. And he has just finished a multi-year, multimillion-dollar study categorically concluding that S.R. 1887 does not in any way infringe upon the First Amendment rights of American citizens.
MR. SIA. I see. Who funded this multimillion-dollar study?
MR. ENTITLETON. I’m afraid that I can’t divulge that information.
MR. SIA What do you mean? Why not?
MR. ENTITLETON. Because you see, PRICK is a private person. That means that he is legally protected from disclosing the names of his donors.
MR. SIA. So, there is no way to find out if his donors would somehow benefit from his own study’s conclusions?
MR. ENTITLETON. Well… legally, no.
MR. SIA. Alrighty. I see no issues with this. Thank you for submitting your study for review by the subcommittee. It has been most informative.
MR. ENTITLETON. No problem.
MR. NICHOLS. Mr. Eddlebom, you have the floor. Please enlighten us on you organization’s position concerning this bill.
MR. EDDLEBOM. Sure. Thanks. Look, I’m having a really tough time telling myself that this procedure isn’t some sort of joke. How can you possibly have the gall to consider a bill that so blatantly demotes the majority of the American population to second-class status within a supposed democracy? I mean, do you people even want to keep your jobs? There’s no way your constituents are going to stand for this…
MR. ENTITLETON. Actually, PRICK just finished a study showing that 76% of Americans would support this bill.
MR. EDDLEBOM. You kidding me? I believe I was recognized by the chairman. You already had your chance to speak. Could you please keep some sort of order in your subcommittee, Senator Nichols, and ensure that your witnesses don’t speak out of turn?
MR. NICHOLS. I’m going to allow this.
MR. EDDLEBOM. Are you serious?
MR. NICHOLS. Yep. Would you like to continue with your testimony, Mr. Eddlebom, or shall we move on to the next witness?
MR. EDDLEBOM. Fine. As a constitutional scholar, I have to tell you that this bill flies in the face of the most basic tenets set down by the Founding Fathers. Even if the American people supported it…
MR. ENTITLETON. 76% do.
MR. EDDLEBOM. Listen, Mr. Entitleton, you run a completely blacked out organization. How do we know that your surveys are comprehensive or accurate? How do we know that you don’t have a serious conflict of interest with your donors? How do we even know that your organization doesn’t just comprise of you sitting in your bedroom, taking money from individuals and organizations with vested interests in what research you produce, and publishing studies that keep the money flowing into your pocket?
MR. ENTITLETON. I…uh…I don’t just sit in my bedroom making up studies!
MR. EDDLEBOM. Sure you don’t. Anyway, all I have to say about S.R. 1887 is that it’s an affront to the Constitution and a disgrace to the American people.
MR. NICHOLS. Very well, Mr. Eddlebom. Ms. Strontson, you have the floor.
MS. STRONTSON. Thank you. Trust me when I say that there’s a whole lot that Mr. Eddlebom and I don’t agree on. Our two organizations are usually at loggerheads when it comes to interpretation of the Constitution. However, in regard to S.R. 1887, the issue is crystal clear. This bill is absolutely unconstitutional. I don’t need to be sitting here to tell you this. You could walk into any 8th grade Civics class and ask the nearest 13 year-old…
MR. ENTITLETON. How much do you make, Ms. Strontson?
MS. STRONTSON. Excuse me?
MR. ENTITLETON. How much do you usually make in a year?
MS. STRONTSON. I do not see how that is any of your business!
MR. ENTITLETON. I’m going to guess 140k a year.
MS. STRONTSON. Senator Nichols! Are you going to allow this in your subcommittee?
MR. NICHOLS. Huh? What? Why wouldn’t I?
MS. STRONSTON. Because this is an insult! You asked me to come before the subcommittee as a witness…
MR. ENTITLETON. I make $110 million a year.
MS. STRONTSON. I fail to see what that has to do with anything!
MR. ENTITLETON. Well, you’ve been speaking for more than 14 seconds. According to S.R. 1887, you have to stop talking now. I, on the other hand, still have plenty of free speech left.
MS. STRONTSON. S.R. 1887 hasn’t even made it out of this subcommittee! It can’t be enacted into law till it’s on the floor…
MR. ENTITLETON. Shush!
MS. STRONSTON. How dare you!
MR. ENTITLETON. Shut your mouth.
MS. STRONTSON. I never dreamed…!
MR. ENTITLETON. You’re infringing on my free speech.
MS. STRONTSON. I…
MR. STRONTSON. Shush it.
MR. EDDLEBOM. Senator Nichols! This is absolutely inexcusable!
MR. NICHOLS. I fail to see why you’d think that, Mr. Eddlebom.
MR. EDDLEBOM. Because one of your damned witnesses is being a massively disrespectfully…
MR. ENTITLETON. Shut your trap.
[Transcriber’s note: Mr. Eddlebom and Ms. Strontson seethed silently at Mr. Entitleton while Mr. Nichols seemed distracted by something on the far wall of the chamber. After a minute of deeply uncomfortable silence, Mr. Nichols finally roused himself.]
MR. NICHOLS. I guess we’ll wrap up with the concluding statements. Mr. Entitleton, you may go first.
MR. ENTITLETON. Thank you, Mr. Nichols. For the reasons described so eloquently by the beautiful and esteemed Ms. Swan…
MS. SWAN. Oh, thank you Mr. Entitleton!
MR. ENTITLETON. I only speak the truth, senator. But as I was saying, for those reasons—among many others—S.R. 1887 is an elegant, thoughtful, and equitable bill in full compliance with the word and spirit of the U.S. Constitution. If anything, it would be a gross disservice to the American people not to pass this bill. Unlike my misguided, biased, and highly moronic colleagues masquerading as qualified witnesses…
MS. STRONTSON. I resent that! Senator Nichols, do something about…
[Transcriber’s Note: Mr. Nichols slammed his gavel down furiously.]
MR. NICHOLS. Order! There will be order in the hearing!
MR. EDDLEBOM. Finally!
MR. NICHOLS. Mr. Eddlebom! Ms. Strontson! You have already had your chance to speak. You will comply with this subcommittee’s operating procedures, or you will be removed!
MS. STRONTSON. What?? You didn’t lift a finger when Entitleton repeatedly interrupted…
[Transcriber’s note: Mr. Nichols pounded his gavel even harder.]
MR. NICHOLS. I said order!
MR. EDDLEBOM. These whole proceedings have been a farce! I’m not going to waste anymore of my time being berated and insulted to my face. Come on, Holly. Let’s go.
[Transcriber’s note: Mr. Eddlebom and Ms. Strontson brusquely walked out of the chamber, slamming the door behind them as they left. A few seconds of silence passed while the sound reverberated in the senators’ ears.]
MR. ENTITLETON. Well, that goes to show you how willing some people are to just drop their civic duty whenever it suits them.
MS. SWAN. Truer words have never been spoken. We gave them an unprecedented opportunity to present their perspectives directly to us and they literally walked out on it. Signs of our times, I guess.
MR. NICHOLS. Might as well be representative of the American people. Oh well, let’s get on with it and approve this bill. Do I have unanimous consent in favor of S.R. 1887?
[Transcriber’s note: Unanimous consent was given.]
MR. NICHOLS. Fantastic. Meeting adjourned. We’re done here.