The 4 Times Trump Nominee Jeff Sessions Acted to Cancel Free Speech

Jeff Sessions Acts Against Free Speech Four Times in His Senate Career

The Attorney General is the highest representative of law enforcement and the highest-ranking legal advocate in the entire government of the United States of America. In order to uphold the legal foundation of the United States government, an Attorney General must believe in that legal foundation. Disturbingly, Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General appears to oppose a core element of America’s legal foundation: the Bill of Rights itself, particularly the right to freedom of speech.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. It guarantees the right of free expression, whether in publication, in the streets, or in a church. But Trump nominee Jeff Sessions has acted against freedom of speech in the United States of America four times:

  • On March 29 2000, Jeff Sessions voted for a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit free speech that the majority finds offensive.
  • On March 13 2001, Jeff Sessions cosponsored a bill to accomplish the same.
  • On January 16 2003, Jeff Sessions cosponsored yet another position a bill to accomplish the same.
  • On June 27 2006, Jeff Sessions reiterated this position by voting to prohibit free speech the majority finds offensive yet again.

Each of these bills would permit the criminalization of flag burning, an act to express strongly defiant disagreement with the United States government.  These bills would prohibit free speech because the majority finds it offensive, curtailing the bounds of free speech to encompass only the acceptable, a curtailment that takes the freedom out of free speech.

Jeff Sessions has made a pattern out of this curtailment of free speech — and Donald Trump has nominated Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General.

On March 29 2000, Senator Russell Feingold confronted Jeff Sessions for his lack of trust in free speech, in words that are worth reading today:

For the promise of free expression to be fulfilled, the first 
amendment must protect those who rise to challenge the existing 
wisdom--to raise those views that may anger or offend. As Justice 
William O. Douglas observed, free speech, ``may indeed serve its high 
purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction 
with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.''
  Adherence to this ideal is what separates America from oppressive 
regimes across the world. We tolerate dissent and protect dissenters. 
They suppress dissent and jail dissenters, or condemn dissenters to a 
fate still more grave.
  The first amendment to the United States Constitution is not 
infallible. It cannot sanitize free expression any more than it can 
impart wisdom to thoughts which otherwise have none. Nor can the first 
amendment ensure that free expression will always comport with the 
views of a majority of the American people or the American government.
  What the first amendment does promise, however, is the right of each 
individual in this Nation to stand and make a case, regardless of 
particular point of view, and to do so absent fear of government 
censor. This right is worthy of preserving. It is this right that is at 
risk today. When we start down the road to distinguishing between whose 
message is appropriate and whose is not, we risk something far greater 
than the right to burn a flag as political expression.
  Much of what is clearly protected expression can easily be deemed 
objectionable. So it is with flag burning. As the Supreme Court has 
repeatedly stated, the act of flag burning cannot be divorced from the 
context in which it occurs--that of political expression. This Nation 
has a proud and storied history of political expression--much of which 
could easily be characterized as objectionable.
  Does any Member of this body believe that if the question had been 
put to the crown as to whether or not the speech and expression 
emanating from the colonies, in the form of Thomas Paine's ``Common 
Sense'' or the Articles of Confederation, should be sustained, the 
answer would have been anything but a resounding no? Could not the same 
be said of messages of the civil rights and suffrage movements?
  This Nation was born of dissent. Contrary to the view that it weakens 
our democracy, this Nation stands today as the leader of the free world 
because we tolerate these varying forms of dissent--not because we 
persecute them.
  In seeking to protect the American flag, this amendment asks us to 
depart from the fundamental ideal that government shall not suppress 
expression solely because it is disagreeable. As Justice Brennan wrote 
for the majority in Texas v. Johnson:

       If there is a bedrock principle underlying the first 
     amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit 
     expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea 
     itself offensive or disagreeable. We have not recognized an 
     exception to this principle even where our flag has been 
     involved.

  So this amendment runs counter to the very premise of the Bill of 
Rights--that the rights of individuals should remain beyond the purview 
of unwarranted government intervention. That is what lead to the 
adoption of the Bill of Rights. In the words of Justice Jackson, 
speaking for the Supreme Court in 1943:

       The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw 
     certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political 
     controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and 
     officials, to establish them as legal principles to be 
     applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and 
     property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship 
     and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be 
     submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no 
     elections.

Yet, this amendment would do exactly that. It would subject the fate of 
one of our most fundamental rights to turn upon the outcome of 
elections. What comfort is a first amendment that tells the people that 
the appropriateness of their political expression will be left to the 
government?

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