WASHINGTON — Controversies can be wonderfully clarified when people follow the logic of illogical premises to perverse conclusions.
For example, two academics recently wrote in the British Journal of Medical Ethics that "after-birth abortions" — killing newborn babies — are matters of moral indifference because newborns, like fetuses, "do not have the same moral status as actual persons" and "the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant." So killing them "should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled." This helpfully validates the right-to-life contention that the pro-abortion argument, which already defends third-trimester abortions, contains no standard for why the killing should be stopped by arbitrarily assigning moral significance to the moment of birth.
Now comes Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., with a comparable contribution to another debate, the one concerning government regulation of political speech. Joined by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 26 other Democrats and one Republican, he proposes a constitutional amendment to radically contract First Amendment protections. His purpose is to vastly expand government's power — i.e., the power of incumbent legislators — to write laws regulating, rationing or even proscribing speech in elections that determine the composition of the legislature and the rest of the government. McGovern's proposal vindicates those who say most campaign-finance "reforms" are incompatible with the First Amendment.
His "People's Rights Amendment" declares that the Constitution protects only the rights of "natural persons," not such persons organized in corporations, and that Congress can impose on corporations whatever restrictions Congress deems "reasonable." His amendment says it shall not be construed "to limit the people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and all such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable." But the amendment is explicitly designed to deny such rights to natural persons who, exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of association, come together in corporate entities to speak in concert.
McGovern stresses that his amendment decrees that "all corporate entities — for-profit and nonprofit alike" have no constitutional rights. So Congress — and state legislatures and local governments — could regulate to the point of proscription political speech, or any other speech, by the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, NARAL Pro-Choice America, or any of the other tens of thousands of nonprofit corporate advocacy groups, including political parties and campaign committees.
Newspapers, magazines, broadcasting entities, online journalism operations — and most religious institutions — are corporate entities. McGovern's amendment would strip them of all constitutional rights. By doing so, the amendment would empower the government to do much more than proscribe speech. Ilya Somin of George Mason University Law School, writing for the Volokh Conspiracy blog, notes that government, unleashed by McGovern's amendment, could regulate religious practices at most houses of worship, conduct whatever searches it wants, reasonable or not, of corporate entities, and seize corporate-owned property for whatever it deems public uses — without paying compensation. Yes, McGovern's scythe would mow down the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as the First.
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