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Editorial: Editing the Bill of Rights

It didn’t generate much buzz, but it should have. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has come out against the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment.

Speaking earlier this month in St. Louis, Hillary Clinton announced that one of her first acts should she win the presidency would be to push a constitutional amendment permitting the government to regulate political speech.

All this would be done under the banner of civic virtue, of course.

“The amendment would allow Americans to establish common sense rules to protect against the undue influence of billionaires and special interests and to restore the role of average voters in elections,” read a statement from a Clinton spokesman, Politico reported.

In seeking to rewrite the First Amendment, Mrs. Clinton codifies into her agenda the left’s preoccupation with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the majority held that the Bill of Rights precluded the government from limiting independent political expenditures.

Let’s remember that during oral arguments in the case, the deputy solicitor general told the justices that under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the government could ban politically oriented books.

Later in a second round of oral arguments, Solicitor General Elena Kagan — who has since been elevated to the high court — downplayed that astonishing contention, but asserted the statute would allow the Federal Election Commission to outlaw certain pamphlets. “We don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats,” Chief Justice John Roberts said at the time.

It’s also worth noting that the group Citizens United became caught in the cross hairs of the election police after it had produced “Hillary: The Movie,” a 2007 film that was highly critical of Mrs. Clinton as she was in the midst of her failed 2008 presidential run. The organization sought to make the movie available for free as video-on-demand, but the FEC deemed the 90-minute production a form of “electioneering” and stepped in to quash the plan.

Amazingly, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia embraced the FEC’s effort to suppress the documentary on the grounds that it portrayed Mrs. Clinton as unfit for the presidency and sought to influence voters to oppose her candidacy.

Isn’t that precisely the type of speech the First Amendment is intended to protect? Indeed, the subsequent 5-4 Supreme Court decision in favor of Citizens United was an unequivocal triumph for free expression.

Now, as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal pointed out last year, “Mrs. Clinton is urging an amendment to the Constitution to do away with the right to criticize her.”

Nor is this simply about the “undue influence of billionaires and special interests.” Thanks to the proliferation of federal and state campaign finance restrictions in recent years, scores of average Americans seeking to join the political debate have faced legal action for “offenses” that include taking out newspaper ads dealing with a local school board race and receiving free legal advice regarding a recall effort.

That so many Democrats, including their likely nominee for the highest office in the land, would eagerly and unapologetically advocate in favor of using the power of the state to censor political speech is a disgrace.

This editorial first appeared on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website on Saturday.

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