A commentator described by the Washington Post as an “expert on the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court, student rights and education,” longtime Village Voice writer and now WND columnist Nat Hentoff, says Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts usually is wrong but got it right on Wednesday in lifting some federal campaign donation limits.
Hentoff’s list of honors includes an honorary doctorate of laws from Northeastern where he was removed previously as the editor of the Northeastern News for being too independent. He has published books on jazz, education, the Catholic Church, free speech and more.
He talked with WND Thursday about the McCutcheon decision through which the high court lifted federal aggregate donation limits.
The decision means wealthy donors can contribute the maximum amount allowed to as many individual candidates as they choose. Previously, the individual maximum permitted contributions only up to nine candidates.
Hentoff said his first reaction to the decision was anger, “just like when the Supreme Court found that corporations and unions have the right to create those superpacs.”
But then he said gave it a second thought.
“The more I think about this, the more I must admit – and I disagree with John Roberts most of the time – that, as he has written in the decision, if Nazis can have First Amendment rights, and I have supported that in the past, if certain groups can interrupt funerals of people they oppose ideologically, and I have supported that, with great reluctance I must agree [with the majority opinion],” he told WND.
He said he agrees with Justice Clarence Thomas that the government should remove all the statutory and regulatory impediments “to the ways in which people can exercise their basic right for political speech.”
“I have written often that Thomas, with whom I often disagree, has a very good record on the First Amendment, that is mostly unknown,” he said.
Hentoff said he believes people also have a right to know who is spending how much money to try to influence their vote.
He said the First Amendment often is a complex argument with many valid and seemingly divergent rights to address. He’s concerned that schools today are failing to teach the Constitution and what it means to America.
“We need [the Constitution] especially in the schools so future generations will be able to be knowledgeable voters about why and how they are Americans,” he said.
Hentoff was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne during his college years and worked as associate editor of Down Beat. He later was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship in education and an American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award.
He expounded on his views with a weekly Village Voice column. He also has written on jazz for the Wall Street Journal, where he has been removed because he is too independent.
Roberts wrote in the majority opinion for the court: “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
Roberts found it made no sense that someone could give the limited amount to nine candidates but not a 10th.
The decision raised howls of protest from the likes of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Sanders called out the five Supreme Court justices who signed the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission.
“What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in?” Sanders asked in a posting on Politicususa. “To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd.”
McCain warned that the decision will result in “scandals involving corrupt public officials and the unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions.”
However, others praised the decision for its alignment with First Amendment protection of free speech.
The James Madison Center, which argued for the limits to be dissolved, said it’s a matter of fairness and the right of Americans to support the candidate or candidates they choose.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the decision is an “important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse.”