In his June 30 op-ed column, “Courting the powerful,” E. J. Dionne Jr. criticized the Supreme Court’s invalidation of Arizona’s speech-squelching “Clean Elections” system. Despite long-established precedent holding similar efforts to equalize levels of political speech unconstitutional, Mr. Dionne defended Arizona’s system, arguing that “leveling the playing field” between private-money candidates and their challengers “was the means, not the end.” The end, Mr. Dionne asserted, was fighting corruption.
However, Mr. Dionne’s argument missed the point. The First Amendment limits both government’s ends and its means. By Mr. Dionne’s reasoning, The Washington Post Co. should have lost the Pentagon Papers case because the government sought to enjoin publication of those documents only as a means of promoting the plainly legitimate end of national security.
Government may have many salutary goals, but it cannot pursue those goals by burdening protected speech. When it does so, it is a properly engaged judiciary’s role to hold those efforts unconstitutional.
Paul Sherman, Arlington
The writer is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented plaintiffs in the challenge to Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Act.
ccd autumn and e.j. [supreme court twins 2]
Much has been written about the Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s Clean Election Act, including George F. Will’s June 29 op-ed column, “A level field for the First Amendment,” and E.J. Dionne Jr.’s June 30 column, “Courting the powerful,” among others.
The pundits miss the point. The Supreme Court has been making critical and far-reaching decisions for more than 30 years based on the fallacious notion that campaign donations are a form of free speech. Nowhere does the First Amendment mention material contributions to candidates as part and parcel of freedom of speech. If our Founding Fathers had so intended, would they not have specified it as they did when they specified freedom of the press? Strict constructionists cannot have it both ways. Freedom of speech and campaign contributions are different animals. So long as the courts treat them as the same, this country will continue down the path toward plutocracy.
George Smith, Frederick
Frederick, MD. 21701 301 694 7804 (day and night)