FAN 11.4 (First Amendment News) — Liptak re Amending the First Amendment & Similar Proposals by Justice Stevens

If you have not yet seen it, take a look at Adam Liptak’s New York Times article titled “Justice Stevens’s Prescription for ‘Giant Step in Wrong Direction.’” It is quite good and in characteristic Liptak fashion elicits an important reply by way of an insightful question.  Here are a few excerpts:Unknown

Traces of Anger

There was a hint of anger in some of his remarks when I went to see him last week in his Supreme Court chambers. He said the Court had made a disastrous wrong turn in its recent string of campaign finance rulings. “The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate,” he said. “It’s really wrong.

“Misleading” Message 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. started his controlling opinion with a characteristically crisp and stirring opening sentence: “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” But that was misleading, Justice Stevens said. “The first sentence here,” he said, “is not really about what the case is about.”

Justice Souter’s (unpublished) Dissent

I asked Justice Stevens whether he, as the senior justice among the four dissenters, would have assigned the 2009 dissent.“I would and I did,” he said. And he more or less confirmed that the assignment went to Justice David H. Souter, as Jeffrey Toobin has reported in The New Yorker. “He was certainly a logical candidate to write the dissent,” Justice Stevens said of Justice Souter . . . . The draft dissent caused the majority to pause, Justice Stevens said, thanks to “the strong expression of the feeling among the dissenters that procedurally the case was not in the proper posture to reach the issue that they ultimately decided. I think it persuaded the majority that it would be better to have a re-argument so that they could not be accused of deciding something that had not been adequately argued,” he said. 

Amending the First Amendment — Prudent? 

I asked whether the amendment would allow the government to prohibit newspapers from spending money to publish editorials endorsing candidates. He stared at the text of his proposed amendment for a little while. “The ‘reasonable’ would apply there,” he said, “or might well be construed to apply there.” Or perhaps not

His tentative answer called to mind an exchange at the first Citizens United argument, when a government lawyer told the court that Congress could in theory ban books urging the election of political candidates. Justice Stevens said he would not go that far.“Perhaps you could put a limit on the times of publication or something,” he said. “You certainly couldn’t totally prohibit writing a book.”

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More On Justice Stevens’ Proposal to Amend the First Amendment

If you missed FAN 10, click here for some commentary on Justice John Paul Stevens’ proposal to amend the First Amendment. For a thoughtful review of Justice Stevens’ newly released book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, see Richard Hasen,”Change the Constitution in Six Easy Steps? It Won’t Be That Simple, Justice Stevens,” The Daily Beast, April 20, 2014.

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