On Fox News Sunday, Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat-Illinois) was asked if he thought it was a conflict of interest for the President to assign Eric Holder the job of deciding if Eric Holder’s Department of Justice had crossed the line in violating the privacy of journalists. Durbin said he wasn’t yet convinced there was a conflict of interest. I disagree strongly with Durbin but I don’t think his answer is surprising. Unless something really horrific breaks loose, a Democratic Senator from Illinois is going to support the Administration of a Democratic President from Illinois.
What makes this story note worthy is that Durbin immediately diverted from the question he had been asked to another subject: a media shield law.
Even apart from what he said about such a proposed law (more below), the very fact that he and Senator Lindsey Graham are speaking of such a thing is a threat to the Constitution. The Federal Government already has a media shield law. It is called the First Amendment. That has always been our media shield law and the Supreme Courts and lower courts have always referred to it as the legal basis for protecting the media from prosecution and censorship.
To repeat: We already have the First Amendment; anyone who claims we need a media shield law is hoping to weaken its protections or otherwise provide more room for government censorship.
If there is any doubt how Durbin wants to weaken the First Amendment, he dispelled them:
“But here is the bottom line — the media shield law, which I am prepared to support, and I know Sen. Graham supports, still leaves an unanswered question, which I have raised many times: What is a journalist today in 2013? We know it’s someone that works for Fox or AP, but does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who is tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to constitutional protection? We need to ask 21st century questions about a provision that was written over 200 years ago.”
Durbin could not have been clearer: he wants Constitutional First Amendment protections to be taken away from the people and only given to a select group of companies, like “Fox or AP,” who deserve such protection (for now). And he is hoping to take this decision away from the courts and settle all the issues in one legislative act. He and his cronies have the wisdom to “ask 21st century questions” and update the Constitution.
The fact that legislators can even float such suggestions and not immediately cause an uproar or outrage and opposition indicates that what remains of our Constitutional social order is at the brink of destruction. If Congress can simply create a law that effectively replaces the First Amendment, then the Constitution is effectively dead. I realize there are many other areas where the Constitution has been attacked and subverted. But up until now the Supreme Court has mostly upheld the right of Free Speech. Now it seems as if the Executive Branch is going to get away with violating the First Amendment, and then the Legislature is going to kill the First Amendment while pretending to save it from the Executive Branch by creating an unnecessary media shield law.
Free speech is a natural right. It requires no act of legislation.