In light of my earlier post on Breyer’s vision of free speech as a collective right, his jurisprudence on the 2nd Amendment being a collective right, and throw in views on association, I may write something titled “Collective Liberty.”
Update: In WSJ, James Taranto writes a piece, titled “Welcome to the Collective.”
And here’s how Breyer sums it all up: “Accordingly, the First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.”
The emphasis on “matters” is again Breyer’s. We’d have italicized “collective” as the key concept. As with the Second Amendment, he and the other dissenters assert a “collective” right, the establishment of which is purportedly the Constitution’s ultimate purpose, as a justification for curtailing an individual right.
In this case they at least acknowledge the individual right exists. But then the First Amendment, unlike the Second, has no prefatory clause explaining its purpose; it simply says “Congress shall make no law . . .” Breyer has to venture outside the text to find a reason to read that prohibition equivocally.
It’s important to note that when Breyer refers to “collective” rights, what he does not have in mind is individuals exercising their rights by voluntarily collecting themselves into organizations. In fact, the prevailing left-liberal view, most notably with respect toCitizens United v. FEC (2010), is that collections of individuals, at least when they take corporate form, have (or should have) no rights.
The only “collective” that matters to Breyer is the one from which you cannot opt out except by the extreme measure of renouncing your citizenship: “the people” or “the public” as a whole. In Breyer’s view, the purpose of the First Amendment is to see that (in Chief Justice Hughes’s words) “the will of the people” is done. Individual rights are but a means to that end. To the extent they frustrate it, they ought to be curtailed. You will be assimilated.
That resolves the conundrum we noted atop this column. Fringe political speech like flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades is so broadly unappealing as to have no effect on “the will of the people.” The same is true of nonpolitical forms of expression such as pornography, violent video games and depictions of animal cruelty. (Breyer’s willingness to countenance restrictions of the first two has to do with the protection of children, not of the body politic.)
Only mainstream political expression has the potential to thwart the “collective” will, and thus, in the view of Breyer and his fellow dissenters, it alone is deserving of restriction on such a rationale. That stands the First Amendment on its head. Its purpose may be to “make government responsive,” as Wilson argued, but the means by which it does so is the limitation of government power and protection of individual freedom.