Hillary, the Consensus Maker

On March 24, the United Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving a critical and uncomplimentary movie about Hillary Clinton. A hostile critique of the new secretary of State, made when she was a presidential candidate, “Hillary, The Movie” was produced by a conservative advocacy group that did to Hillary what one might expect a Michael Moore type would do to Sarah Palin or W (remember him?). Already on DVD and the Internet (what isn’t?), the movie was prevented from being shown on cable television during the past election season because the Federal Election Commission ruled it violated the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

The Supreme Court will listen to arguments over whether the First Amendment should permit unlimited showing of the reportedly scathing political documentary (I haven’t seen it, so I rely on reliable sources). The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press supports that position. The movie includes — this position posits — some biography and history, some unflattering entertainment, and much provocative criticism. It should be protected by the First Amendment. The more censorious position — backed by the Justice Department — is that the movie is a political diatribe about a presidential candidate, and thus is electioneering that is covered by the federal election law, if timed to an election (no longer the case).

The appellate court ruled that the film was prohibited election communication about a presidential candidate. I predict the Supreme Court will unanimously rule that the film cannot now be banned. The conservatives and less conservatives on the high court are likely to agree on this decision, though for different reasons, rationales, ideologies and motivations. Many liberals and conservatives switch predictable roles when considering whether money, politics and expression are covered by the First Amendment. This rare occurrence may be Hillary’s unique accomplishment — a divisive political figure who generates passionate adherents and vitriolic critics could lead the divided court to unanimity about a major policy issue. How interesting!



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