Protecting speech

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving “Hillary: The Movie” — a conservative attack on Hillary Clinton.

A federal appeals court, citing McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on independent political advertising, had upheld a Federal Election Commission ruling that the film could not air within 30 days of a presidential primary.

The producer sued.

During arguments last year, a government lawyer — defending the ban — was asked whether Congress could also pass laws outlawing the publication of a corporate- or union-sponsored book critical of a candidate near election time.

“Yes, indeed,” the lawyer responded.

“That’s pretty incredible,” said Justice Samuel Alito and “other justices openly gaped,” noted National Public Radio.

It was a troubling exchange — and laid bare the nonsense that “campaign finance reform” has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

On Thursday, the high court issued its decision in the Hillary case, ruling 5-4 that limits on independent political expenditures — including limits on political advertising near election time — violate the Bill of Rights. “Were the court to uphold these restrictions, the government could repress speech by silencing certain voices,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

This is the obvious and correct decision. What does it say, however, that all four left-leaning members of the Supreme Court dissented, siding instead with those who argue that book banning is just fine and dandy as long as it is done in the name of electoral integrity?

We said it before and it bears repeating: The idea that Congress — under the guise of ensuring “fair” elections, keeping corporate or union money out of politics or some other chimera — has the power to pass laws banning certain books, movies or TV ads runs in direct conflict with the free speech protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights and ought to horrify any American.

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