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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Taking a scythe to the Bill of Rights

George Will
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 House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 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 that 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 that 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.

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