Sen. Ted Cruz returned to the public eye this week when he argued — falsely — that a constitutional amendment proposed by Senate Democrats would allow the government to arrest Saturday Night Live members for making fun of politicians.
The amendment bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, would give Congress and states greater authority to regulate campaign financing. It's in response to the 2010 Citizens United ruling that lifted restrictions on how much corporations can donate to political campaigns. But, Cruz argued, since NBC is a corporation, what's stopping the government from clamping down on SNL's freedom of speech? "Lorne Michaels could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician."
Richard Albert, an assistant professor at the Boston College School of Law, told The Wire that's pretty unlikely. The bill as he read it referred to how people express their views (through money), not what those views are. "I don't see this as being a content based bill," he said.
The main problem with the amendment bill, of course, is that it will never pass. Tuesday's vote was just to advance the bill, to allow it to be discussed. The Senate still has to approve it by a two thirds vote, then the House has to do the same. Then it goes to the states. “Not surprisingly, a proposal as bad as the one Senate Democrats are pushing won’t even come close to garnering the votes it would need to pass," Sen. McConnell told Politico after the vote. "But to many Democrats, that’s just the point. They want this proposal to fail because they think that somehow would help them on Election Day."
Albert shares McConnell's skepticism. "I don't even think, to be honest with you, that the people who are proposing this amendment want it to succeed," Albert said. Democrats, "don't really mean that, because it would spell the end of their best fundraising strategies ... They want to rely on these issues to raise money." And also win elections. As Politico noted, Democratic strategists believe that pushing campaign finance reform "places the GOP on the wrong side of public opinion."
And while Udall's amendment was dead on arrival, Albert noted that there have been times when Congress and the states worked together to pass amendments that overturned judicial decisions that people oppose (examples being the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery, and the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote).
After years of polls it's become clear that people also oppose the court's Citizens United ruling. One month after the January 2010 ruling, eight in 10 Americans said they disagreed with the ruling. Talking about Citizens United helps Democrats because people don't like the ruling. Undoing it is another story.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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