This middle school web page tells students that James Madison is the father of the Bill of Rights. As does this elementary school teaching guide. Having been in Congress for roughly 15 years however, Senator Chuck Schumer is long removed from middle school. So you may have to forgive him for citing Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Bill of Rights.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, stumbled Tuesday over basic American history, crediting Thomas Jefferson for authorship of the Bill of Rights during a debate over the First Amendment and campaign finance.
“I think if Thomas Jefferson were looking down, the author of the Bill of Rights, on what’s being proposed here, he’d agree with it. He would agree that the First Amendment cannot be absolute,” Mr. Schumer said.
While Jefferson is deemed the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, he was not intimately involved in the writing of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, which is the first 10 amendments to that founding document.
Indeed, Jefferson was out of the country, serving as minister to France at the time of both the Constitution convention and the congressional debate over the Bill of Rights. His fellow
Virginians, James Madison and George Mason, are usually credited with being more influential in the process — Mason for being among the most forceful in demanding the protections of such a Bill of Rights, and Madison for being the political muscle that got them approved.
“Madison’s support of the bill of rights was of critical significance,” the National Archives writes on its web page. “One of the new representatives from Virginia to the First Federal Congress, as established by the new Constitution, he worked tirelessly to persuade the House to enact amendments.”
Schumer has long been battling against First Amendment rights. He sponsored a bill known as the DISCLOSE Act, which would require disclosure of political activity by restricting the First Amendment.
In arguing for the DISCLOSE Act, Schumer blatantly admitted the need to curb freedoms assured by the First Amendment.
I believe there ought to be limits because the First Amendment is not absolute. No amendment is absolute. You can’t scream ‘fire’ falsely in a crowded theater. We have libel laws. We have anti-pornography laws. All of those are limits on the First Amendment. Well, what could be more important than the wellspring of our democracy? And certain limits on First Amendment rights that if left unfettered, destroy the equality — any semblance of equality in our democracy — of course would be allowed by the Constitution. And the new theorists on the Supreme Court who don’t believe that, I am not sure where their motivation comes from, but they are just so wrong. They are just so wrong.
Shumer isn’t the only Democrat who wants to re-write the First Amendment. Nancy Pelosi previously stated her desire to amend the First Amendment using the same DISCLOSE Act.
Pelosi said the Democrats’ effort to amend the Constitution is part of a three-pronged strategy that also includes promoting the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase disclosure requirements for organizations running political ads, and “reducing the roll of money in campaigns” (which some Democrats have said can be done through taxpayer funding of campaigns).
The constitutional amendment the Democrats seek would reverse the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that decision the court said that the First Amendment protects a right of free speech for corporations as well as for individuals, and that corporations (including those that produce newspapers, films and books) have a right to speak about politicians and their records just as individuals do.
If you’re wondering how this would lead to censorship of everyday things like books, papers, or the internet, Chief Justice Roberts can explain…
The case in question led to this opinion written by Roberts:
“The government urges us in this case to uphold a direct prohibition on political speech,” wrote Roberts. “It asks us to embrace a theory of the First Amendment that would allow censorship not only of television and radio broadcasts, but of pamphlets, posters, the Internet, and virtually any other medium that corporations and unions might find useful in expressing their views on matters of public concerns.”
Censorship of pamphlets or any media would likely be supported neither by James Madison or Thomas Jefferson.