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June 2004
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Chicago Trib tells Istook to get a clue

I was very pleased when Rep. Istook’s un-American and un-Constitutional provision against promoting a particular viewpoint in the metro system was overturned in court.
Yesterday, the Trib took a nice moment to add their viewpoint.

You’ve heard the phrase “drunk with power”? That pretty well captures the state of mind of Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) when he pushed through a measure telling the Washington Metro system what kind of ads it could place in its stations, trains and buses. …

But a federal district court has done the inevitable, striking down the ban as an unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech. The Metro system has made a practice of accepting issue-oriented ads, the court said, and the government may not choose which opinions shall be allowed. …

But Istook still doesn’t get it. After the decision came down, he said, “I’m confident that ultimately the courts will agree with the long-standing principle that Congress is free to decide what we will or will not fund. We provide major funding to combat drug use, and tax dollars should not be used to subsidize contrary messages.”

What is he talking about? Running the notices would not have “subsidized” an unapproved message: Change the Climate was trying to buy ad space, at a total price of $91,875.

Congress is free to decide whether to fund mass transit or not. What it’s not free to do is use its power of the purse to suppress one point of view on a matter of public policy. Direct government censorship is forbidden by the 1st Amendment, and so is the indirect kind.

It’s understandable that Istook takes issue with the policies proposed by Change the Climate and its allies. But if he thinks it would be a mistake to liberalize drug laws, he should use the option he’s trying to deny them: Rebut their arguments.

And that’s exactly what he’s afraid to do. Because he’d lose.

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