Last night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) became the first presidential candidate to sign a maximalist socially conservative pledge that, among other things, calls for “all forms of pornography” to be banned. In other words, yesterday marks the day when Bachmann added the First Amendment to the long list of constitutional provisions she despises.
The right to express yourself — whether erotically or otherwise — is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. As the Supreme Court explained nearly 40 years ago, only the most “patently offensive” erotic expression that is utterly lacking in any “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” can be banned without violating the First Amendment.
Moreover, there is very real danger in allowing Bachmann to ban a certain kind of expression simply because it bothers her. Des Moines school officials were bothered by opposition to the Vietnam war, so they banned the most quiet and unintrusive protest of one of America’s greatest mistakes. The Wilson Administration was bothered by opposition to World War I, so it banned that opposition as well. Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock waged war on art and literature that he found bothersome, combing through American’s mail to root out literature anyone might find the least bit titillating. It is virtually impossible to draw principled lined between art and mere vulgarity, and so our Constitution does not leave this choice up to the whims of government officials.
Bachmann, however, clearly believes the entire Constitution should be read according to her most uninformed whims. Bachmann suggested Census forms are unconstitutional. She supports stripping federal judges of their power to hear marriage equality cases in order to prevent the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the law from being extended to gay people. Bachmann even invited two radical tenthers who believe that everything from Social Security to the federal highway system to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution are unconstitutional to lecture her fellow lawmakers on what the Constitution requires. (Yes, you read that right, one of Bachmann’s constitutional role models believes that part of the Constitution is unconstitutional.)
In the end, it is difficult to read Bachmann’s agenda as anything less than a mission to replace the entire Constitution with her own selfish desires. If Bachmann thinks Social Security should be repealed or that the Census should use different forms, then she should introduce legislation that will do so and try to get it passed, but Bachmann is simply wrong to pretend that the Constitution says whatever she wants it to say.
In response to the controversy caused by this pledge, the group which authored it is now claiming that they only want to ban forced participation in pornography and not all pornography. Because this new position is not consistent with the text of their pledge, it is unclear whether Bachmann shares their new, more narrow view, or whether she pledges to obey the anti-porn pledge as it was originally written.