Saturday, April 19, 2014
Clarence Thomas is right about disclosure laws
The post below was written before the recent Firefox/Eich imbroglio, so is rather prophetic
In the famous Citizens United Supreme Court case dealing with campaign finance restrictions, Clarence Thomas was the only justice to argue that disclosure laws violate the First Amendment. Thomas's position was that political organizations have the right to keep their donors secret. I was initially skeptical. After all, if donors are so confident in their views, they should be willing to publicly defend them. Don't we have a "marketplace of ideas" for a reason?
But I've come to agree with Thomas. Some views are so unpopular that people risk their livelihoods and even their personal safety when expressing them. What's troubling is that these views need not be considered universally heinous--they need only be unpopular among influential media figures or politically-connected lobbying groups. Consider the ongoing case of sociologist Mark Regnerus, whose scholarly research has questioned the "no differences" orthodoxy regarding the children of gay parents. I wrote about Regnerus for National Review recently:
Jennifer Marshall and I detail here the furious reaction that Regnerus sparked, but suffice to say that it involved hysterical condemnations in the press, a frivolous “scientific misconduct” investigation conducted at the behest of a blogger (!), emotion-laden joint statements, evidence-free accusations of corruption on the part of the journal, and more. Now the journal’s editor will have his e-mails scrutinized for the slightest inappropriate thought.
I went on to note that other researchers will be understandably leery of broaching this issue, given the harassment that Regnerus and his editor have endured. The same goes for grant writers and other donors interested in publicly supporting the research. Their case illustrates that the First Amendment must be about more than just a formalistic legal right to speak. The purpose of free speech in a democratic society is to ensure that all ideas have the chance to be heard and debated. By forcibly "outing" supporters through disclosure laws, the government effectively discourages speech that influential people don't want to hear.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).