by Max Brantley
Roby Brock has a most interesting discussion by House members of the state House rule to prohibit certain uses of the vast new amount of House video of committees and the full House in action.
Since the House is majority Democrat, Republicans had been quick to make this a partisan issue and depicted Democrats as anti-First Amendment. They hunger to put film clips to use in political ads. This is, of course, a two-edged sword. Also, the Republicans haven't noted, many Democrats oppose the policy, too.
Congress restricts use of filming in its halls, several have noted, as does the Republican-controlled Texas legislature.
My thought is that the films should be open to all for whatever use. Forget what the law allows. The House would have a hard time — politically, if nothing else — taking action against someone who used a clip of public House action in a campaign commercial.
Tip of the hat, however, to Republican Rep. Davy Carter, the perennial adult in GOP conversations, for not reflexively adopting his party's talking point on the issue.
Rep. Davy Carter (R-Cabot) an attorney and member of the House Rules Committee, disagrees that the new policy is incompatible with the First Amendment. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has held in several contexts "that a legislature's decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right, and thus is not subject to strict scrutiny."
“Speaking in only terms of the First Amendment, I think fundamentally there is a difference between the government choosing to not supply its property for commercial uses than the government first supplying the property and then restricting its use. Having said that, I do recognize that the question becomes less clear when dealing with political speech,” Carter explained.
But he also addressed the practical end of the equation — tough scrutiny is the price of public service.
“Regardless of the legal question, respectfully, this is not a matter that I am particularly concerned with. Although I am sure I would not like someone using the video in an adversarial political advertisement, especially one taken out of context, as a public official it comes with the territory,” Carter said.
Good liberal Reps. Kathy Webb and Jim Nickels are among the Democratic reps faulting the restrictive rule. Nickels further wants video of ALL House committees, not just a few. And, I hope we'd have bipartisan agreement that it's time for the state Senate to enter the video age, too.