Bring it on, Senator McConnell: Make the Kagan Hearings all about Citizens United

This week, Senator Mitch McConnell went on the offensive against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, questioning her commitment to the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Citing Kagan’s oral argument in Citizens United v. FEC last September made in her capacity as Solicitor General , McConnell argued that Kagan was in favor of banning books, calling her views troubling.  Yesterday, the Washington Times went one step further, arguing in an editorial that General Kagan should be kept off the Supreme Court based on her oral argument in that case.

Ever since the Supreme Court in January ruled that corporations have the same rights as living, breathing human beings to spend money to elect candidates for office they favor, we’ve heard time and again from conservatives that the Court’s ruling was necessary to prevent the federal government from banning books published by corporations.  This is nonsense.  The campaign finance statutes the Court invalidated in Citizens United were designed to prevent corporations from drowning out the voices of the American people by spending unlimited amounts to elect candidates to do their bidding, not to prevent authors from publishing their works.  There is not a single case in which any government – federal, state, or local – has used campaign finance laws to prevent publication of a book.  Were any government official so foolish as to attempt to do so, the effort would quickly be declared unconstitutional.  As every member of the Supreme Court knows, the First Amendment was written in part to protect the press and other publishers from official censorship.  Of course, corporations have responded to the ruling not by publishing more books, but by putting more and more money into the political process.

Four months later, poll after poll shows that Americans across the political spectrum are angry at the way the Court warped the Constitution in Citizens United to give corporations the same constitutional rights as individuals to spend money to influence the political process and are anxious about how the Court’s ruling will affect the 2010 elections.  Although we disagree strongly with Senator McConnell’s “book banning” attack on General Kagan, we could not agree more with him that the Citizens United ruling should form the backdrop for General Kagan’s confirmation hearings.  The Senate confirmation process is the perfect opportunity for progressives – both on and off the Senate floor – to expose how the conservatives on the Roberts Court, in activist rulings like Citizens United, have rewritten our Constitution’s text and history to favor corporations over living Americans.