Free Speech Under Attack

If we are to remain a free people, we need the foundation of the First Amendment. Free Speech guarantees every individual the freedom to express private opinions and beliefs publicly. Without public discourse and the freedom of associations, we will lose the greatest gift from our founding fathers.

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CHICAGO, IL – The Pillar of Law Institute won summary judgment today in the case Ball v. Madigan, striking down an Illinois state law that prohibits medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries from making campaign contributions. Judge John Z. Lee of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

DENVER, CO. – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1014 yesterday, amending the state’s election law to allow voters to take and share photographs of their own marked ballots, an activity known as taking a “ballot selfie.” The bill followed a preliminary injunction in the case Hill v. Williams in November, which ruled that the previous version of the law—which prohibited ballot selfies—was unconstitutional. Pillar of Law Institute attorney Stephen Klein serves as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case.

“This is a big win for a simple but important act of free speech,” said Klein. “It’s no longer a crime to take a ballot selfie in Colorado.”

A bill that passed the Colorado legislature two weeks ago would make displaying one’s own marked ballot legal, and also allow for the display of photographs of them, or “ballot selfies.” As the bill awaits signature from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, some pundits have made eleventh-hour warnings in support of a veto, including Hans von Spakovsky and Grant Strobl of the Heritage Foundation. They write that the bill is “a dangerous and unjustified step backward,” and claim that it would facilitate vote buying and “open the door to intimidation and threats against voters for not voting a particular way.”

Their arguments prove baseless and, far worse, support a dangerous school of thought that threatens free speech far beyond ballot selfies.

This afternoon, in a speech at the Center for American Progress, Commissioner Ann Ravel, formerly of the Federal Election Commission (as of yesterday), gave her first speech as a private citizen since leaving the agency. Promising she will continue to speak out in support of all-encompassing campaign finance regulation, Ravel again proved that she suffers from a lack of integrity. It will likely be the last speech of hers to which I lend my ears.

Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, joins the chorus of campaign finance “reformers” who are concerned about the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court, claiming that his “record on money in politics . . . raises significant concerns among legal experts.” (Some legal experts, that is.) Moreover, Hobert Flynn asserts, “[Gorsuch’s] champions indicate he'll protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyday Americans.”

Well, that’s rich: Common Cause has led the way to empowering entrenched political interests over the less wealthy and less politically connected. Their experiment in Colorado proves the point.

Less than a year ago, Norm Eisen, in his capacity as a fellow at the Brookings Institution, convened a campaign finance “Solutions Summit” that brought together a meeting of regulation advocates whose supposed solutions differ about as much as Oxford blue and Midnight blue. It wasn’t a conference; it was a trade show. Around the same time, Eisen co-authored an op/ed repeating an ever-recurring refrain to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which enabled corporations and unions to independently speak out about candidates for office. The vitriol directed at corporations by reformers in the wake of the case is difficult to understate.

But a strange thing happened yesterday: Norm Eisen found a reason to love at least one corporation, Nordstrom.

Proponents of campaign finance regulation often base their quest on a nebulous term, “our democracy.” Though undefined, it is meant to serve as a pleasant-sounding, self-evident justification for any and all forms of political speech regulation. But the latest reformist outrage against the South Dakota Legislature reveals the weaknesses of any democracy and callous disregard for the bulwarks that keep democracy in line with freedom.

AUSTIN, Tex. – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, issued two decisions late yesterday in the cases of David and Stacy Cary, both appeals for bribery convictions relating to political campaigning. Both decisions acquit the Carys, ruling that the evidence was legally insufficient to uphold their convictions. The Pillar of Law Institute filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in Stacy Cary’s case, which was cited in the court's opinion.

The Irreparable Harm of Wisconsin John Doe

Posted by on in Political Speech

The Wisconsin "John Doe" campaign finance inquisition is a sordid tale, one of the most jarring examples of the criminalization of politics in American history. Using a secret process usually reserved for investigations of organized crime like drug trafficking, prosecutors in Wisconsin targeted a number of politically-engaged citizens with tactics that included raids of their homes and seizures of vast troves of documents. Though neighbors witnessed the raids, the targets were prohibited from speaking about the investigation. Some, thankfully, broke these gag orders, and with the end of the case other victims are now speaking out.

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