Free Speech

The court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban an organization (in this case, Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.) from running television or radio ads on public policy that refer to a candidate for federal office two months before a general election or one month before a primary election.

While other organizations might have to fight for their own ads in specific cases, the court’s decision sends a huge signal that free speech still means something— especially right beforean election.

“It was a good day for the people in terms of getting some free speech rights back against the politicians and the big media conglomerates,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. “It was outrageous what they were trying to do. I’ve told numerous people in the media today, not since Congress tried to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, when they were trying to stifle Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party has Congress really tried to stifle the free speech rights of the American public like they did with this campaign finance law

And thank goodness the court, with that 5-4 majority, finally overturned it in part and gave the people a modicum of their speech rights back”

The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the law is very unconstitutional as applied to issue ads that a Wisconsin anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., wanted to broadcast before the 2004 election.

“Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election Roberts wrote. “Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.

That majority opinion directly contradicted a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the law      “What was so wrong with tha first Supreme Court decision was that they saw this only through the eyes of politicians on Capitol Hill worried about somebody running an ad against them. LaPierre said. “My gosh, the First Amendment was never only about politicians; it was about the right of the people. Speech is free flowing. It doesn’t start with an election. It doesn’t end with an election. It flows through an election, and it is all about delivering information to the American public . Why should big media companies and politicians have any more right to that than anyone else in America?”

The so-called “Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Bill” passed Congress in 2002 despite concerted efforts by the NRA and other grassroots organizations that knew the legislation would curtail their members’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The National Rifle Association was at the forefront of the first Supreme Court case on the law, becoming one of the first organizations to file a legal challenge to the blackout periods. NRA also participated in the most recent case, filing a “friend of the court” brief in support of the right to free speech.

“This [law] was so unfair in terms of what politicians on the Hill tried to do,” La La Pierre said. “Thinking this way : It’s 30 days prior to an election. Some politician could go on national television and say the NRA or the VFW, or the AFL-CIO, you can name the group, is the worst group in America, made up of who knows what, and slander them any way that politician wanted.

And under this crazy campaign finance bill, the NRA or the VFW, or any other organization would not be able to run an ad responding to that politician unless they did it in a very restrictive way, through a special political fund. It was crazy’

In a nutshell. La Pierre said, such a law turns the First Amendment right to free speech into something reserved for politicians and media conglomerates, but not the people.

“In effect, it gave the politicians a super-sized chance to lie about anyone and be unchallenged:’ he said. “Thank goodness the court finally looked at that and said, ‘That’s not the way it works in America].”

Sponsored by Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold D-Wis., the measure met stiff resist throughout weeks of consideration in both the House and Senate. When to the dismay of many, President Bush signed the measure into law it looked like enemies of free political speech had the upper hand.

In this case, change was a long time coming—nearly five years, in fact.

“The question was, are you going to allow those voices in ad to be amplified within 6o days of elections, ” La Pierre said, “and the NRA said ‘yes, at least when it comes to issue ads.’ The politicians on Capitol Hill said ‘no,’ The New York Times said ‘no,’ The Washington Post said ‘no.’ Now finally, thank goodness, the Supreme Court came in and said ‘yes: The First Amendment is about the people; it’s not about politicians

Our Constitution says, ‘Congress shall make no law abridging free speech,’ and ‘no” means no.

LaPierre warns, however, that those who would stifle the free speech of citizens who think differently than they do won’t give up easily and just go away.

“I don’t think this is over by a long shot:’ he said. “I think they’re going to keep searching for ways to further stifle free speech in this country. This was about people, like George Soros, who funded a good part of this whole thing, who wanted to have the only voice. If you’re a big media conglomerate, you could say whatever you want. If you’re George Soros pouring $50 million into a 527 [advocacy group], you could say whatever you want. But if you were the NRA, you were restricted.

“That’s not what we do in America. Thank goodness there were finally enough justices on the Supreme Court to right this wrong, because all issue ads really are, when you get right down to it, the amplified voices of the men and women on street corners all over America.”

LaPierre stressed that this important court victory could not have been attained without grassroots NRA members understanding the dire situation and pitching in to help fight the battle for freedom.

“I want to thank NRA members around the country for sending in their $5, $10, $20 contributions that enabled the National Rifle Association to fight this the first time we were in front of the Supreme Court, and also go to the Supreme Court the second time, reopen this and fight it again,” he said . “They did it with their contributions. Without that, we wouldn’t have had the resources to pursue this case in the Supreme Court.”



Volume 87. Number 9. September 2007 (Pgs. 28-29 - 60-62)

National Rifle Assoc. P. O. Box 420648, Palm Coast, FL 32142.

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