WASHINGTON -- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) criticized the push for a constitutional amendment on regulating campaign cash Tuesday, deriding "Fahrenheit 451 Democrats" and contending the liberals these days want to ban books and movies.
Democrats are seeking an amendment to override recent Supreme Court decisions that removed certain limits on campaign contributions. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would restore some of Congress' power to regulate federal political spending.
But in a debate on the measure before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cruz slammed the move as an assault on the First Amendment and an about-face by Democrats who used to oppose such ideas.
"This constitutional amendment would change the scope of the First Amendment," said Cruz, pointing to past opposition to similar measures by liberal stalwarts like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who helped write the last campaign finance law.
"I want to leave the First Amendment undisturbed. I agree with Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. Where are the liberals today?" Cruz said. He argued that the Democrats' proposal would repeal the First Amendment and "muzzle" groups such as Planned Parenthood just as much as the National Rifle Association.
"This amendment, if adopted, would give Congress the power to ban books and to ban movies," Cruz said. "And by the way, Citizens United was about fining a movie maker who made a movie critical of Hillary Clinton," he said, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on elections.
"Ray Bradbury would be astonished because we are seeing Fahrenheit 451 Democrats today," Cruz said, referring to the science fiction author's famous book on free speech and book burning. "The American people should be angry about this. ... The senators who put their name to this should be embarrassed that they have signed up for repealing the free speech amendment to the First Amendment."
Cruz' attack on Democrats allegedly in favor of book burning is rooted in a single moment during the Supreme Court arguments in the Citizens United case. The case centered on a film made by the corporately funded nonprofit Citizens United about then-presidential candidate Clinton, which some argued violated campaign finance laws regarding the corporate funding of electioneering.
When asked by Justice Samuel Alito whether these laws would allow books about candidates published in the run-up to an election to be regulated and possibly suppressed, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart said that would be possible in some cases. The statute that Stewart referred to, however, did not extend to books.
Democrats responded that Cruz was wildly misrepresenting what their amendment would do.
"Senator Cruz, maybe he fancies himself to be a constitutional expert. Know that no amendment is absolute," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "His rhetoric, his over-the-top rhetoric here, makes it seem like if you support this amendment, you're against the First Amendment."
Schumer noted there are already many restrictions on free speech that presumably Cruz supports, such as bans on child pornography, yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, and libel.
"The overheated rhetoric, the hyperbole we hear from Senator Cruz just defies logic," Schumer said.
Cruz later returned to the committee hearing to respond to Schumer and to introduce two bills of his own. These were the Super PAC Elimination Act of 2014, which would end all campaign contribution limits, and the Free Speech for All Act of 2014, which would require any regulation of speech or spending to apply to media corporations as well as citizens or other entities.