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Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claims Democrats are trying to repeal First Amendment

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Today Right Wing Watch posted a video in which Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claims that Democrats are attempting to appeal the First Amendment. Cruz delivered the remarks in a speech before the family Research Council. Cruz stated,

I'm telling you, I'm not making this up. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has announced the Senate Democrats are scheduling a vote on a constitutional amendment to give Congress the plenary power, the unlimited authority to regulate political speech. Because elected officials have decided they don't like it when the citzenry has the temerity to criticize what they've done."

Later Cruz states, "41 Democrats have signed on to repealing the First Amendment."

The crowd respond with an audible gasp.

Needless to say, Cruz' characterization is subject to debate.

First, as pointed out by Talking Points Memo, the bill in question is proposed constitutional amendment from Senator Tom Udall (D-NM). The amendment in question (full text can be read here) does not give Congress "unlimited power" to regulate political speech. Instead, the proposed amendment gives Congress the power to, "regulate the raising and spending of money and in-king equivalents with respect to federal elections."

In other words, the amendment attempts to reverse the controversial Citizens United decision by the United State Supreme Court. That decision declared that money is a form speech, and therefore corporations and unions are allowed to spend as much on they want elections. Before the Citizens United decision, which was made in 2009, Congress had limited the amount corporations and unions could spend through the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act.

Citizens United was hailed by many conservatives as a victory for free speech, and criticized by progressives for opening the floodgates to corporate spending on elections. Since Citizens United, the amount spent on elections has gone up dramatically, and most of that money has been spent supporting Republican candidates.

Finally, it is worth noting that even in Citizens United the more conservative Supreme Court Justices who wrote the majority opinion acknowledged that Congress could still limit the amount direct contributions that corporations and unions make to candidates Free speech, like every right, is not limitless as anyone familiar with libel laws knows.

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