Column: Hey Trump, protect our First Amendment rights

In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally in Fort Worth, Texas. To his supporters, the business career of Trump shows he’s got the decisiveness and smarts to lead the country. To critics, his exaggerated claims, burned customers and four bankruptcies suggest a man wholly disqualified for the office. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Donald Trump’s hatred of the First Amendment has been a reoccurring theme throughout his campaign, coming to a peak during a Feb. 26, 2016 rally in Texas. Trump called out the media in his speech, saying that when he is elected president he will loosen the laws on libel so that he and others could sue reporters who wrote negative things against him.

Openly pledging to violate the First Amendment is a hypocritical stance for any presidential candidate.

The First Amendment consists of protections for five major freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to petition and freedom of assembly. Trump’s vision would violate freedom of the press. Libel laws were established during the Supreme Court case People v. Croswell in 1804.

Harry Croswell, a Federalist journalist, was arrested and charged with libel after he published papers criticizing individuals including president Thomas Jefferson. Croswell lost at the state level but brought his appeal to the Supreme Court where he was defended by Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton argued that libel could not be considered defamation if the information was true and there did not exist malicious intent.

The Supreme Court deadlocked, and Croswell was set free. The precedent set by this case remains intact to this day.

If Donald Trump loosened libel laws he would allow journalists and anyone with legitimate criticisms to become subject to criminal penalties. He has positioned himself against the media because they have covered the full spectrum of his comments. Though some coverage has been favorable, such as when Trump refuted Ted Cruz’s dismissal of “New York values," most, such as the coverage of his comments regarding Mexican citizens, has been downright ugly.

People have reacted negatively to Trump because he said outlandish things during his run, which he knows will hurt him in the long run. Trump doesn’t want there to be an informed populace against him, so silencing the media is the best way to keep that from happening. 

Donald Trump, like all of the Republican presidential candidates, is a self-proclaimed staunch defender of the Constitution, especially the Second Amendment. By attacking freedom of the press, Trump is hypocritically attacking the Constitution that he holds dear.

The gun culture that exists in America is a part of freedom of expression as much as it is a part of the Second Amendment. Criticisms of politicians are just as much a part of freedom of expression as they are of freedom of press. Legitimate criticism is, and has always been, the backbone of expression and change in the United States.

The British initially tried to silence the media because they felt that the media would bring around a revolution with their rhetoric. Criticism of the status quo led to worker unionization. The entire Watergate Scandal may have gone completely unknown to the general public, if it were not for media investigation.

Under a Donald Trump presidency, if his promises come to pass, it is very unlikely that these social changes would emerge.

It is, of course, extremely unlikely that Trump will be able to loosen libel-laws. It would take a few things including convincing all of Congress, getting the Supreme Court to rule in his favor and the hardest, arguing that all of the criticism is malicious.

Arguing that something is malicious is inherently hard because malicious intent is not well defined. The rhetoric that Trump is using and the support that he is getting is still frightening. 

Many of those who support him may not realize how far reaching Trump’s loosening of libel laws could go. Under a Donald Trump presidency, people would be too scared to report on such things if the outcome could mean arrest. The media would become a state propaganda machine and those who wrote real criticism would end up in jail.

This next election could decide the future of certain freedoms in the United States. Donald Trump may disagree with the way the media portrays him and that is his right under the Constitution. It is also the right of those in the media to report on him and to argue when he is wrong.

As a presidential candidate and potential president, it is Trump’s duty to protect the freedom of the press and the First Amendment as much as he protects the Second Amendment.


Amar Batra is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section, and is also a senior staff photographer. He can be reached via email at amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.