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Obama’s Assault on the First Amendment
Stifling political debate with threats of prosecution is not the "rule of law" -- it's tyranny.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

Obama may very well win the November election but he, like Sen. McCain, should be forced to win it fair and square: by persuading Americans that he is the superior candidate after our free society has had its customary free and open debate.

One understandably feels little sympathy for McCain here. His years-long assault on the First Amendment under the guise of campaign-finance “reform” has led inexorably to the brazenness of Obama’s Chicago-style strong-arming. But the victim here is not McCain. The victim is democratic self-determination. The victim is our right to informed participation in a political community’s most important decisions. The victim is freedom.

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The Justice Department’s job is to prosecute those actively undermining our freedom, not to intimidate citizens in the exercise of that freedom. Consequently, instead of threatening criminal investigations of phantom future civil-rights violations, it should be conducting criminal investigations into whether public officials in St. Louis are abusing their offices to affect a national election.

The federal Hatch Act (codified in Title 5 of the U.S. Code) prohibits executive officials (such as prosecutors and police) from using their offices to interfere with federal elections. The statute may be of limited utility in St. Louis since it principally targets federal officials. Still, state and local government may come within its ambit if their activities are funded in part by the national Leviathan — as many arms of municipal government are these days.

The same bright-line demarcation does not limit application of the federal extortion and fraud laws. The extortion provision (also known as the Hobbs Act and codified at Section 1951 of the federal penal code) makes it a felony for anyone, including public officials, to deprive people of their property by inducing fear of harm. Property interests have been held to include, for example, the right of union members to participate in a democratic process; the harm apprehended can be either physical or economic. Inducing voters to fear prosecution and imprisonment unless they refrain from exercising their fundamental right to engage democratic debate may well qualify.

An easier fit may be fraud, which under federal law (Section 1346 of the penal code) prohibits schemes to deprive citizens of their “intangible right of honest services” from their public officials. Prosecutors and police who abuse their enormous powers in order to promote the election of their preferred candidates violate their public trust.

Regardless of the legal landscape, however, it is the political consequences that matter. Day after day, Obama demonstrates that the “change” he represents is a severing of our body politic from the moorings that make us America. If we idly stand by while he and his thugs kill free political debate, we die too.



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