This piece originally appeared at The New York Times.
Have conservatives hijacked the First Amendment?
Critics are increasingly making this claim, maintaining that under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the First Amendment, once an important safeguard for progressive speech, has become a boon to corporations, conservatives and the powerful.
But in most instances, the First Amendment doesn’t favor speech of the right or the left; it simply takes the government out of the business of controlling speakers by virtue of what they say. It often empowers the powerless. And most important, it helps check official abuse.
To be sure, conservatives and corporations are invoking the First Amendment, and sometimes winning. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Roberts court deployed the First Amendment to guarantee that corporations can engage in unlimited campaign spending. A recent study found that the Roberts court has more often protected conservative than liberal speakers.
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