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Does Congress Have the Power to Censor Movies?

January 22, 2010

Hillary the Movie

Image credit: American Constitutional Society

Congress shall make no law . . . 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 to the United States Constitution

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision removing limits on campaign expenditures by corporations and unions. For many years, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) had prohibited corporations and unions from speaking about candidates in the days leading up to general and primary elections. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission removes that prohibition.

Some believe that the Court’s decision is “a major victory for corporate fat cats and a catastrophe for the American people.” They believe that corporate money will flood elections, corrupt politicians, and distort the beliefs of the American people to the point that we won’t be able to make coherent choices as we choose our representatives.

Now, the First Amendment clearly states that Congress does not have the power to make a law “abridging the freedom of speech.” So, the only argument that could support a Congressional ban on political advocacy by corporations is that corporations do not have “the freedom of speech.”

Citizens United rejects the idea that corporations do not have the right to freedom of speech. In the conclusion to the opinion, the Court provides as an example of the lunacy of this position: Could Congress ban the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Mr. Smith was critical of politicians in general and members of Congress specifically. According to the Internet Movie Database, Mr. Smith was released by a corporation: Columbia Pictures Corporation. If corporations like Columbia Pictures do not have the freedom of speech, then the Court says that “officials . . . could have banned the film.” Yet the First Amendment does not mean much if Congress can censor films.

Additionally, newspapers, radio stations, and television outlets are frequently organized as corporations or owned by corporations. The regulation challenged in Citizens United exempted media organizations. But the Court argues that if only unincorporated individuals have the right to free speech, then media organizations that organize as corporations forfeit the right to free speech and freedom of the press and Congress has the unfettered power to regulate them. The New York Times, for example, is a corporation that is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Professor Eugene Volokh, at UCLA, agrees in this blog post with the majority opinion in Citizens United. “If the Free Speech Clause doesn’t cover corporations (or doesn’t cover them as strongly), why should the Free Press Clause be read as strongly protecting [media] corporations?”

We may not like what corporations spend their money on. We may fear that they will corrupt politicians and distort elections. But I believe that it is usually better to allow people more freedom than to restrict them. I believe that it is better to have a written constitution that means what it says rather than twisting it to mean what we want it to mean in specific situations. If we must restrict the freedom of speech of large corporations, we should do it through the amendment process – not by twisting the plain language of the First Amendment.


Sim Gill to Run for DA

January 21, 2010
Sim Gill

Sim Gill is running for DA.

According to a story today in the Deseret News, Sim Gill announced today that he will be running to be the Salt Lake County District Attorney. In the story, Gill is quoted as saying that he will work to restore public confidence in the District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Gill is a democrat and is seeking his party’s nomination to run against the current District Attorney, republican Lohra Miller. Greg Skordas, a former member of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, has already announced his intention to seek the democratic nomination as well.

Sim Gill was my boss when I worked as a Salt Lake City prosecutor for over a year. While I don’t know Mr. Skordas or Ms. Miller personally, and I cannot judge very well their qualifications to be DA, I believe that Mr. Gill would be an excellent District Attorney. While I worked with him, I found him to be an extremely ethical, professional leader. He has the vision to see that in many cases, traditional incarceration is neither cost effective nor a good way to prevent the repetition of criminal behavior. His initiative has brought mental health and drug courts to Salt Lake County and he plans to expand those programs.

Mr. Gill is a great leader with a vision of criminal justice that will serve Salt Lake County well.

GOP Makes Leadership Changes in Utah Senate

January 21, 2010

Scott Jenkins

Scott Jenkins will be the new majority leader for Utah's GOP Senators

Stories in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and as well as the Senate Majority website, provide information about the shake-up of the GOP leadership in the Utah State Senate. After Sheldon Killpack’s widely reported resignation from the Utah Senate and his leadership position as Senate Majority Leader, GOP leaders met to choose new leaders.

Scott Jenkins, who represents Senate District 20 in Weber County, will be the new Senate Majority Leader. Wayne Niederhauser, representing Senate District 9 in Salt Lake County, will be the new Majority Whip, moving up from his position as Assistant Majority Whip. And Pete Knudson, representing Senate District 17 which includes parts of Box Elder, Cache and Toole Counties, will be the new Assistant Majority Whip.