Kagan Favors Book Bans and Limiting Political Speech

Our Founding Fathers articulated the God-given right to freedom of political speech first and foremost in the Bill of Rights for a reason.

As we have seen so often over the past year, the fundamental right of individuals to peaceably assemble and speak out against government tyranny is the vanguard of our personal liberty.

Never in modern history has this fundamental freedom seen such jeopardy in America. 

The empowerment of academic elites by the Obama administration exposes the horrifying reality of the old adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”  And those elites who think they know better how to run your life than you do are seeking to dismantle your power to stop them.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spoke from the Senate floor Monday afternoon about one of those academic elites and her vigorous pursuit of government censorship of political free speech: Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

Sen. McConnell’s words make one solid case why this woman should never be allowed anywhere near a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the world.

The speech is well worth publishing in its entirety:

“The American people are concerned with the direction the administration is trying to take this country. They’re concerned about the government running banks, insurance companies, car companies, and the student loan business.

“And they’re concerned about the way all this is being done, as exemplified by the health care debate, in which the administration and its allies in Congress defied the clear will of the people by jamming this partisan bill through Congress and stifling its critics along the way. 

“On this last point, I’m referring, of course, to the gag order the administration imposed on insurance companies that wrote letters to seniors telling them how the health care bill could affect their benefits under Medicare Advantage.

“In issuing this gag order, the administration relied on the flimsiest of legal arguments. It said that regulations which allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to restrict how companies marketed their products could be used to impose a prior restraint on speech about an issue of public concern, namely the pending health care bill.

“But the communications in question were not commercial speech. They were issue advocacy, which is the very type of speech the First Amendment is intended to protect. That’s why even the Clinton Administration rejected the notion that its Department of Health and Human Services could restrict this kind of speech.

“Nor was this the only time the Obama Administration has attempted to use government to stifle speech. Just one month prior to its issuance of this gag order, I had the opportunity to sit in the Supreme Court when the Solicitor General delivered her first oral argument in any courtroom. This was the Citizens United case, the same case that prompted the President to scold the Court during his State of the Union Address in January, and a case that, if it had gone the other way, could have dealt a serious blow to the First Amendment Right of free speech.

“For those who aren’t familiar with the particulars of this case, Citizens United turned on the question of whether the federal government could ban a non-profit corporation from producing a movie critical of former Senator Hillary Clinton and attempting to air it just prior to the 2008 Democratic primary. 

“Now, most people probably would be surprised to learn that in America, the federal government could ban a group from speaking because of who the group was and because of the type of speech being uttered. But that’s precisely what federal campaign finance law prohibited. 

“So because this law constrained the exercise of its First Amendment rights, this non-profit, Citizens United, sued the government. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. And because the federal government was the defendant, the Solicitor General’s Office — Ms. Kagan’s office — handled the case, arguing in favor of prohibiting the advertising and airing of the film.

“Now, there were two oral arguments in this case. And during both of them, Ms. Kagan’s office, and Ms. Kagan herself, argued that the federal government had the power to regulate — and if need be, to ban — large amounts of political speech.

“Indeed, the amount of power Ms. Kagan and her office argued that the federal government had in this area was so broad that both liberal and conservative justices found their arguments jarring, given the reverence Americans of all ideological stripes have for the First Amendment. But that was, in fact, their argument.

“During the first argument, the Court asked Ms. Kagan’s deputy whether the government had the power to ban books if they were published by a corporation, and if the books urged the reader to support or defeat a candidate for office. He said yes, the government could ban a corporation from publishing a book — even if it only mentioned the candidate once in 500 pages.

“Not surprisingly, this contention prompted quite a bit of discussion among the justices. They wanted to be clear that that’s actually what Ms. Kagan’s office was proposing. So, to remove any doubt about their position, Ms. Kagan’s deputy said he wanted to make it, in his words, ‘absolutely clear’ that the government did, in fact, have the power to ban certain speakers from publishing books that criticized candidates. Justice Souter asked if that meant labor unions, too. Ms. Kagan’s deputy said that indeed it did.

“Well, so troubled was the Court by the contention of the Solicitor General’s office that the government had a constitutionally-defensible ability to ban certain books by certain speakers, that it ordered another argument in the case. This time, Ms. Kagan herself appeared on behalf of the government.  And this time, it was Justice Ginsburg who noted that at the first argument, Ms. Kagan’s office argued that the federal government could, in fact, ban books, such as ‘campaign biographies,’ despite the protections of the First Amendment.

“Justice Ginsburg asked whether that was still the government’s position. Ms. Kagan responded that after seeing the reaction of the Supreme Court to her office’s argument, they had re-thought their position. Ms. Kagan maintained that while the federal law in question did apply to materials like ‘full-length books,’ someone probably would have a good First Amendment challenge to it.  

“So far so good.

“But her fall-back position was that the same law gives the government the power to ban pamphlets, regardless of the First Amendment’s protection for free speech. This caused the justices to bristle again. One justice asked where, in Ms. Kagan’s world, does one ‘draw the line’?

“First her office says it’s okay for the government to ban books if it doesn’t like the speaker; then it says it’s okay to ban pamphlets if the government doesn’t like the pamphleteer — a proposition that would come as a shock to the Founders, who disseminated quite a few pamphlets criticizing the government of their day.

“Not surprisingly, Ms. Kagan lost the case — and in my view, it’s good that she did.

“Now, I asked Ms. Kagan about her position in this case last week when we met in my office. She said she made the arguments she did because she had to defend the statute. And I understand that her office has to defend federal law. But the client doesn’t choose the argument, the lawyer does. And the argument Ms. Kagan and her office chose was that the federal government has the power to ban books and pamphlets.

“Not only was this argument troubling to those who cherish free speech, it likely contributed to the government’s defeat. But my concerns about Ms. Kagan’s position in this case extend farther than the arguments she and her office made, however troubling they are.

“Shortly after she and I met, the press reported that she had co-written a memo on campaign finance restrictions when she was in the Clinton Administration. In it, she says that ‘unfortunately’ the Constitution stands in the way of many restrictions on spending on political speech, and she believes that the Supreme Court’s precedents establishing protections from the government in this area are, quote, ‘mistaken in many cases.’

“And just last Thursday, she told one of our colleagues that the Court was wrong in Citizens United because it should have deferred more to Congress. But deferred to Congress on what? Deferred to Congress on a statute that is so broad that it encompasses ‘full length books’ and ‘pamphlets,’ as Ms. Kagan put it, and probably to a host of other materials as well? One can only assume that since Ms. Kagan was making these comments in her individual capacity, they provide a more complete picture of her views about the government’s ability to restrict political speech.

“No politician likes to be criticized in books, pamphlets, movies, billboards, or anywhere else whether it’s a president or a senator.

“But there’s a far more important principle at stake here than the convenience and comfort of politicians. And that principle is this: in our country, the power of government is not so broad that it can ban books, pamphlets, and movies just because it doesn’t like the speaker and doesn’t like the speech. No government should have that much deference. 

“The administration has nominated one of its own to a lifetime position on the country’s highest court.  We need to be convinced that Ms. Kagan is committed to the principle that the First Amendment is not, as she put it, just some ‘unfortunate,’ impediment to the government’s power to regulate. It applies to groups for whom Ms. Kagan and the administration might not have empathy. And it applies to speech they might not like.

“So as this process continues, I look forward to learning more about Ms. Kagan’s record and beliefs in [this] area.”