Senator Klobuchar Proposes An Unconstitutional Law That Would Kill Legions Of People If Trump Were Still President
from the self-evident-unconstitutionality dept
There is a reason that the Constitution contains the provision, “Congress shall make no law [?] abridging the freedom of speech.” And this new bill proposed by Senator Klobuchar (who really should know better) gets at the heart of it. Because what her bill would do is make a law that, at its core, pointedly interferes with freedom of speech by allowing the government to penalize certain expression. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that its choices for which speech to favor will be sound and healthy ones for society. In fact, given the performance of the previous presidential administration, there’s plenty of reason to believe the result would be the exact opposite.
The mechanics of this interference are fairly straight forward. Her bill, “The Health Misinformation Act of 2021,” would condition Section 230’s platform protection to apply only to platforms that moderate user content as the government has decreed they should moderate it. The constitutional problems with this scheme should thus be readily apparent: First, it directly violates platforms’ First Amendment rights to moderate user content as they see fit by effectively forcing them to moderate content as the government has decided they should, lest they risk the loss of a critical statutory protection they otherwise would have had. Secondly, the bill inherently allows the government to put its thumb on the scale of deciding which points of view are the allowed ones and which are the ones subject to legal penalty, which obviates freedom of speech since some ideas are obviously no longer effectively free to be expressed if they can attract a censorial government-induced penalty.
The Klobuchar bill would like to pretend that the means somehow justify the ends. The government certainly has a legitimate interest in keeping the population alive and healthy, so it’s not an inherently corrupt goal she’s trying to further with this bill. She just wants to suppress medical misinformation that has been prolonging the pandemic.
But there’s nothing about the bill that confines it to such benevolent purpose. There can’t be, because that’s not how government power works, which is why we have the First Amendment because we always need to be able to speak out against the government when it gets things wrong.
And we know it gets things wrong. It has gotten things wrong even just with respect to this particular health crisis that the bill is supposedly limited to. At best it made innocent mistakes, like when it discouraged masks early on in the pandemic. But then there were people in the highest offices of government touting hydroxychloroquine snake oil and discouraging social distancing. There are still people in government discouraging vaccines. How can we possibly have a law where the government gets to decide what speech is favored or not when the government itself has, even within the very same health crisis that this bill is supposedly limited to, been so conspicuously unable to reliably make those choices competently? This crisis has already outlasted one administration, and while this one might like to keep people alive with credible, scientific information, the last one did not, and who knows what might be in store with the next one. But this bill would empower a Trump Administration as much as a Biden Administration to take away the right and ability of the public to speak out against its mistakes, no matter how deadly they may be. Because a government that can force platforms to only allow, for example, pro-vaccine messages on its systems can just as easily disallow them as well. And if it does, people will die.
Furthermore, if a bill like this could be allowed for this crisis, it could be allowed for any. The government can always articulate some reason for why free expression needs to be curtailed. And throughout history it has regularly tried. A law like this, if it could get on the books, would signal it to keep trying on every policy issue that can possibly bear on our lives and the security and stability of our country ? which is effectively all of them. Because today it’s health misinformation the government is unhappy about. Tomorrow it could be elections. Policing. Terrorism. The draft. Even potentially something as banal as tax policy. There’s always a reason the government can cite for why society should not be exposed to ideas out-of-step with what it has decided are the better ones.
But it’s the people’s job to decide, not the government’s. Per the constitution, it’s not allowed to be the government’s job. The Founders got the government out of the business of choosing which views could be permitted which could be punished with its “make no law” admonishment because there is no way for the government to pick the winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas and not risk serious damage to discourse, and with it the democracy that depends on it.
And everyone in government needs to remember that.