Could These Books Be Banned?

 Posted by on 4 September 2009 at 2:00 pm  Free Speech
Sep 042009

Steve Simpson of the Institute for Justice alerted me to this great press release on the upcoming Supreme Court case on regulating political speech. Here’s the opening:

Could These Books Be Banned?

As Supreme Court Considers Ban on “Hillary: The Movie,” Institute for Justice Asks if First Amendment Protects “Top Ten” Political Books

Arlington, Va.–What do Bill Clinton, Peggy Noonan, John Kerry, Michael Moore, Maureen Dowd and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth founder John O’Neil have in common?

All wrote books that could have been banned, just like “Hillary: The Movie,” the film at the heart of the campaign finance case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear new arguments in the case Wednesday, Sept. 9, in an unusual session ordered after justices appeared troubled by the government’s suggestion during the first oral argument that it could ban corporate-funded books. Indeed, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a leading advocate of campaign finance regulations, admitted this week to The New York Times, “A campaign document in the form of a book can be banned.”

Today, the Institute for Justice released a “top ten” list of political advocacy books from the last four presidential election cycles and asked: If the First Amendment doesn’t protect “Hillary: The Movie,” would it protect books like these?

To find out its list of ten books, go read the press release. It’s a great press release, I think. It does not merely state its view. It intrigues readers by presenting striking concrete effects of a bad court decision, then invites them to think seriously about the principles of free speech:

“Speech is speech, no matter who is speaking, who funds it or in what form it comes,” continued Simpson. “The same ideas do not become dangerous because they are funded by corporations or because they appear in an ad or film instead of a book or newspaper. The Supreme Court must return to first principles and protect all speech, regardless of the speaker, and overturning Austin and McConnell is a critical first step.”

“Political ads, books and films, like ‘Hillary: The Movie’ or Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ contribute to a robust and healthy debate, and they all deserve the fullest protection of the First Amendment,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall. “What’s at stake in Citizens United is whether the First Amendment protects this speech from censorship if Congress decides that it prefers silence over debate. The Supreme Court should reject censorship and open the floodgates to all speakers–and then let citizens and voters decide for themselves.”

While I do think that a proper philosophical defense of freedom of speech needs to dig deeper, that’s obviously sufficient for a press release.

So… keep up the good work, IJ!

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