For Immediate Release
September 12, 2014
Statement on Sanders/Leahy Led Effort
to Destroy First Amendment
Yesterday, 54 senators voted to amend the U.S. Constitution so as to essentially do away with the First Amendment. The effort to pass S.J. Res. 19 was led by, among others, Vermont’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, with the vocal support of senior senator Patrick Leahy.
“It is absolutely appalling that a majority of the U.S. Senate would, for the first time in this nation’s history, propose to amend the Bill of Rights to give incumbent politicians the power to restrict, control and punish political activity,” said Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper. “It is disgraceful that any elected official would take part in such a scheme.”
Although proponents of this amendment framed the issue as desirable to deal with large political expenditures by corporations, the actual language of S.J. Res. 19 would allow incumbent politicians to control and penalize any activity by any organizations or individuals that involve any raising or spending money to “influence elections” either directly or indirectly. “That is nothing less than a blank check to criminalize the activity of political opponents,” said Roper.
Although S.J. Res 19 assures members of the media that the amendment would not infringe upon freedom of the press, it would, however, for the first time empower legislators to define what the “press” is — and what it isn’t. The New York Times Corporation may be granted permission to print candidate endorsements, but a corporation that manufactures widgets would not be. Federal and state legislatures would be empowered to draw those distinctions.
So, would a blogger continue to enjoy an inalienable right to freedom of the press? A talk show host? A website? A non-profit corporation? A small, local newspaper? If this amendment were to pass, the answer would be no. Permission to publish would be required from government, either directly or tacitly, and it could be taken away or subject to punishment at any time.
“This disgraceful amendment is nothing more than an incumbent protection plan, and a frighteningly tyrannical power grab,” said Roper. “It is particularly disappointing that Vermont’s two Senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, are aggressively leading the charge to destroy the Bill of Rights that protects our freedom to speak out on issues and about those who would be our leaders.”
“We are grateful to the 42 senators who voted against this measure, defeating it for now, and to preserve the cornerstone of American liberty — free speech, free press, free assembly, and the right to petition government for redress of grievances.”
The Ethan Allen Institute has long worked to educate Vermonters on the fundamentals of a free society, including the essential freedoms protected by the U.S. and Vermont Bills of Rights.
Rob Roper, President, Ethan Allen Institute