Get ready for a showdown over free speech: Harry Reid will push partial repeal of the First Amendment next week

When the Senate returns to Washington next week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to bring up S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) that would effectively repeal political speech protections in the First Amendment.

Reid filed a motion to proceed on the constitutional amendment on August 1, just before the chamber adjourned for its summer recess. Although the original text of the amendment gave Congress the sole power to regulate political speech, including campaign finance regulations, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure with substitute language to allow states to implement their own rules and regulations, in addition to those passed by Congress.

The measure, however, is an attempt to diminish the influence of issue-focused nonprofit organizations and political action committees, which, Senate Democrats say, are often funded by corporate interests. Section 2 of the amendment would allow Congress and state legislatures to prohibit “corporations or other artificial entities created by law…from spending money to influence elections.”

That language directly targets the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, a landmark free speech case in which the majority ruled that corporations, labor unions, and other artificial entities can make independent expenditures in elections. These entities are still prohibited from contributing directly to candidates running for federal office. The Court also struck down prohibitions on electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election.

But the proposed amendment does more than target corporations, which are often a target of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. “Let’s be clear, this amendment doesn’t just do it for corporations, it doesn’t just do it for billionaires — nothing in this amendment is limited to corporations or billionaires,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned his colleagues in June. “This amendment is about power and it is about politicians silencing the citizens.”

Unfortunately, 48 Democrats, including the two independents in the chamber, have cosponsored the proposed amendment. Thankfully, Republicans seem to be universally opposed to the amendment, meaning that there is virtually no chance that Reid will get the 67 votes he needs to pass it.

Although the verdict is already in, it’ll be interesting to see if Republicans will allow the proposed constitutional amendment to proceed to a debate. The vote to proceed could come as early as Monday, after which the Senate would begin debate.

Regardless of the defense of the First Amendment that you’ll hear from Republicans, Democrats are going to use the outcome as an issue in the mid-term election, especially now that they’re even more desperate for a distraction due to President Obama’s approval ratings continue to tank.

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