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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Help Chris Muir Find TEH CONSTITUTION!

As a follow-up to Amanda's long-running series, we can perhaps help Chris Muir out by pointing him to an obscure document he seems to be unfamiliar with, the United States Constitution. As you can see, in his latest attempt to be as didactic and unfunny as Mallard Fillmore in a more pretentious way, Muir's reactionary stand-in responds to a claim that the press should have the final decision about what to publish by quipping: "I don't quite recall when the press was directed to run national security." Ha-ha! You see, national security requires that the government get the final say about what's publishable, not those silly editors. One minor problem, however:

Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Strange. While the press indeed was not "elected" to "run" national security, it was given the right to report information important to the public. Oddly, there isn't a "national security" exemption. The reasons for this were very effectively explained by Hugo Black, when the Nixon administration--Muir surely would have approved!--tried to suppress the publication of the Pentagon Papers:

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.


The word "security" is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic. The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged.

As fashionable as it is nowadays to use "national security" as a universal solvent which instantly dissolves the restrictions on executive power contained in the Constitution, I find Black's reading of the First Amendment rather more persuasive.

(Cross-posted to L, G & M.)