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You Can't Fight City Hall, but You Can Fight Congress

They say that you can't find city hall. But Rush Limbaugh, apparently, has enough influence to fight another political body -- Congress -- and come out on top, using the power of talk radio and eBay, not lawyers. As reported in this AP story, back in early October, 41 Democratic Senators wrote to Mark Mays, president of Clear Channel, the parent company of Rush Limbaugh's show, asking him to chastise Limbaugh for comments that he'd made about "phony soldiers" criticizing the war. Limbaugh denied having making this statement, so he turned the tables, posting the letter on eBay for sale as a "priceless memento" of the folly of Senior Majority Leader Harry Reid and 40 other senators, who attempted to "demonize a private citizen by lying about his views." The auction closed today, with a winning bid  by Betty Casey of $2.1 million. The money will go to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

But could Limbaugh have sued Reid and the Senate, if he'd wanted to? Timothy Zick addresses this issue in this post at Concurring Opinions. Zick comments that Congress does have authority to issue congressional resolutions to condemn the actions of private citizens and/or other countries. But Zick says that Congress is not an ordinary speaker and should self-censor:

But Congress is no ordinary speaker. As no legal restraints apply to its many "symbolic" resolutions, it must determine for itself when and on what matters of foreign affairs it wishes to speak. Congress, in other words, must necessarily self-censor. On the world stage, as in the domestic market for political expression, Congress must be acutely aware of the ramifications of its expression -- for diplomacy and, in the case of the genocide resolution, even military operations. The President and Congress will not always agree on foreign affairs policies or agendas. Setting aside Congress's undoubted ability to speak to matters of substantive foreign policy and war, what if any norms or considerations ought to guide Congress when considering whether to issue symbolic resolutions on controversial matters like Japanese "comfort women" or Armenian genocide? Should it generally hold its collective tongue where the controversy does not concern any direct American interest? When it is particularly important that the United States speak with a "single voice"? When its expression may interfere with ongoing military operations, endanger lives, or result in the breaking of diplomatic ties? Or should Congress, like other speakers, rely upon the marketplace -- including presidential resolutions --to counter any purported ill effects from its expression, and speak boldly even in the face of likely hostile audience reactions?

Thomas Lifson has thoughts at the American Thinker. He writes that actions like Reid's have a chilling effect on speech, potentially even raising First Amendment issues.

In any event, at the end of the day, the legal issues don't matter, at least in this case -- because Limbaugh wound up with the last word.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 19, 2007 at 05:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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