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?