Thursday, February 5, 2009

Goldwater Institute: U.S. Supreme Court hears third McCain-Feingold challenge

This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a third challenge to portions of the now infamous McCain-Feingold law. Banning certain types of political speech 60 and 90 days before elections, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), routinely deprives citizens of their most precious liberties--the ability to speak their mind and listen to controversial advertisements. Recognizing that the law often infringes on these constitutional liberties, the Court has twice stricken provisions of it as unconstitutional.

Supreme CourtIn this case, Citizens United hoped to distribute a documentary film critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary election season. However, the BCRA provides for blackout periods during this time, which prohibited the movie from being distributed through Video on Demand.

Quintessentially paternalistic, supporters of BCRA believe that average citizens should be protected from certain ideas-like those criticizing political figures-that are too dangerous to hear.

Of course, the First Amendment has something else to say about the free flow of ideas. Citizens can only recognize their best interests when they elect to become well informed. That happens by opening, not closing, channels of communication. Keeping the public ignorant of political controversies does nothing to further the vigorous competition for truth in our marketplace of ideas.

Having failed twice before the Court, we can only hope that the Court once again recognizes its duty to uphold the free flow of ideas rather than embrace the cold comfort of government censorship.

Benjamin Barr is a Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow.
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