H.R. 1, political omnibus bill, passes House

H.R. 1, the political regulation omnibus bill, contains “provisions that unconstitutionally infringe the freedoms of speech and association,” and which “will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.” That’s not just my opinion; it’s the view of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed in this March 1 letter (more). For example, the bill would apply speech-chilling new restrictions to issue ads that mention individual lawmakers.

The House of Representatives nonetheless voted on Friday along party lines to pass the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). For now, it has no prospect of passage in the Senate.

The issues raised in the ACLU letter aside, H.R. 1 contains many other provisions that likely are unconstitutional, unwise, or both. On gerrymandering, for example, an issue on which the Constitution does grant Congress a power to prescribe standards which I’ve argued it should consider using more vigorously, the bill takes the heavy-handed approach of requiring all states to create a commission of a certain format. That would likely run into the Supreme Court’s doctrine against federal “commandeering” of state government resources.

More criticism: Brad Smith on the bill’s restrictions on discussion and coordination of expenditures on speech; Ilya Shapiro and Nathan Harvey (“If ever adopted, [HR1] would give power to one slice of Washington’s elite at the expense of American democracy’s carefully crafted checks and balances”); David A. French (“At its essence, the bill federalizes control over elections to an unprecedented scale, expands government power over political speech, mandates increased disclosures of private citizens’ personal information (down to name and address), places conditions on citizen contact with legislators that inhibits citizens’ freedom of expression, and then places enforcement of most of these measures in the hands of a revamped Federal Election Commission that is far more responsive to presidential influence.”) And: Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Luke Wachob.

One Comment

  • Good comments on the bill.

    Perhaps we could prevail on Maj. Leader McConnel to take up the matter and make it more palatable?

    It is frustrating when politicians pass laws that are unconstitutional on their face.

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