Home / Federal Judges Make Poor Film Critics: Hillary – The Movie

Federal Judges Make Poor Film Critics: Hillary – The Movie

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Federal judges have a lot of education and training, and a great deal of legitimate authority and responsibility. However, I am somewhat confused over their training or authority as film critics.

The conservative advocacy group Citizens United has made a film called Hillary: The Movie which is apparently quite critical of the good senator. They expect to have a half dozen theatrical screenings of the film, then a DVD release.

Somehow, someone has dragged the group into federal court insisting that this film should be considered a political advocacy ad subject to disclosure of donors or investors and advertising restrictions per McCain-Feingold and such. I can't tell from the AP report who exactly is the complainant. Apparently, there are specifically at least NO official involvement or briefs from Senator Clinton.

Hillary Clinton is beautifulIn any case, it appears that this panel of three federal judges are ready to declare a theatrical and commercial DVD release to be subject to campaign finance laws and restrictions on how it can be advertised on television. Apparently, it is assumed that you're only allowed to openly advertise your commercial film project if your literary motives are right. Citizens United now find themselves having to justify that their movie is "issue oriented" rather than specifically advocacy against Hillary's presidential campaign.

Attorney James Bopp argued that they should be considered "issue-oriented" speech because viewers aren't urged to vote for or against the Democrat.

"What's the issue?" asked Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a federal appeals judge sitting on a mixed panel to review the case.

"That Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist," Bopp replied. "That is an issue."

"Which has nothing to do with her campaign?" U.S District Judge Royce C. Lamberth interjected.

"Not specifically, no," Bopp replied.

"Once you say, 'Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,' aren't you saying vote against her?"

Bopp disagreed because the movie did not use the word "vote."

"Oh, that's ridic. …" Lamberth said, trailing off and ending the line of questioning.

Under campaign finance laws, Citizens United would be required to disclose its funding for the ads. It would also have to disclose donors and pay the costs of airing it on cable television from a political fund.

No one was trying to get Michael Moore's ridiculous Fahrenheit 9/11 movie dragged into court like this. The lefties and even most of us rightwing nutjobs would have hollered blue-bloody murder over such a crass interference with a filmmaker's right to even stupidly criticize and mock public officials. Hey, the little bastards are on OUR payroll. We'll can call them every name in the book if we want.

I dig Roger Ebert. He's probably the world's foremost respected film critic. I might  be interested in his thoughts on Hillary: The Movie. But who told these federal judges that they're film critics? Also, even Roger Ebert's biggest fans would not presume that his movie reviews should have the force of law. Do any of these judges have a degree in filmmaking or professional expertise as screenwriters or directors or such? I've got videos I'd like to ban, but I wouldn't presume to use the force of law to do so. It wouldn't pass constitutional muster.

Thank you, John McCain. This reminds me why not to support your presidential bid.

Oh, I'm sorry, Sir. May I have permission to speak?

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  • Fine bit of reportage, Al. Adside from the one AP story you reference this is getting remarkably little coverage, and given the campaign season it ought to be front and center of every news outlet.


  • Thanks Dave. I too lack understanding of public priorities in these things. Folks get all bent out of shape over supposed violations of the rights of Al Qaeda jackasses at Gitmo, or the Patriot Act – which are perhaps questionable, but at least intended to get bad guys who are trying to kill US.

    Yet this cursed McCain-Feingold nonsense blows up right in the middle of the most basic rights of free Americans to publicly petition the government and the people who elect them for redress of grievances. How in hell is saying things critical of candidates for public office in an election season NOT right at the top of the list of our most precious constitutional rights?

    Where’s that damned worthless ACLU in any of this? Probably busy losing their little minds cause some rural county courthouse had a nativity scene in the yard.

  • I think the ACLU takes the position that its limited resources are better used on issues where there are not already wealthy groups involved who can finance their own legal battles, and I’m not sure that’s unreasonable.

    As for McCain-Feingold, I wish I could talk to John McCain about it. I don’t think he really intended for it to do the kind of harm it has done. It just wasn’t a very well thought-through piece of legislation. The idea of knowing who is spending what in a campaign is basically an okay idea. The problem is the incredibly ham-handed implementation in the bill and the arbitrary restrictions it creates which make ridiculous suits like this possible.


  • The ACLU’s sponsorship would not be critical for this particular case as, yes, this outfit can defend themselves. But so far as I can tell, they’ve not been at all sympathetic to victims of McCain-Feingold.

    And screw sympathy for John McCain not knowing what a mess he was creating. It was entirely 100% predictable, and he should damn well have known. If he couldn’t see this type of stuff coming, then he ain’t smart enough to be president.

    This crap is a half dozen kinds of unconstitutional, no matter what problem they think they’re addressing. I don’t object too hard to a little of something aimed at transparency, ie publishing lists of donors. Then if the opposition want to campaign against you publicly because you took money from XYZ, that’s making a case to the voters. But the rest of this is utterly unacceptable.

  • McCain Feingold doesn’t outlaw political speech. It does require disclosure of donors in certain specific circumstances.

    It’s only the TV ads for the film, not other aspects of the film, that would require such disclosure, no?

    And by “our” precious constitutional rights, you realize you are principally talking about lobbyists and interest groups with enough money to buy expensive ads? Not ordinary people or everyday, run of the mill political discourse, which continues unchecked last time I looked.

    McCain Feingold may well be a flawed, imperfect, compromised bill.

    But do you actually think the gazillions of dollars spent on attack ads make our political discourse better or our democracy “freer”? Some would argue that the distortions they foster in fact do the opposite.

    Maybe that bill wasn’t the answer. But we ought to do something.

  • By the way, there was much discussion in 2004 whether Fahrenheit 9/11’s ads would be affected by campaign finance restrictions. Just Google it. Maybe nothing ever made it to court, but there was heated argument about it.

    My guess is that the case inspiring this article will come to naught as well.

  • I think Handy has it about right. I doubt this case is going anywhere. I’m not sure McCain-Feingold even really applies and it’s just a shot in the dark to try to shut down criticism of Hillary regardless of the actual lack of merit of the case.


  • In Britain, political campaign advertising on TV is not allowed – although print advertising is. Instead, each party gets an allotted number of five- or ten-minute ‘party political broadcasts’ each year on radio and television, based on their electoral support and party membership. During an election campaign the parties are awarded extra slots. A certain amount of attack advertising does still occur in these broadcasts, but on the whole – because this is actual TV/radio programming and not commercials – it compels the parties to focus on their messages rather than just sling mud.

    It’s a much fairer, more positive and productive system than you Seppos have, IMNSHO.

  • I certainly hope that this case comes to nothing, though these judges sure sound like they’re ready to Do Something. But even if it doesn’t, the constant threat of this can only be bad. These guys might have a little more money and backing and be too damned radical to care. My kinda people. But this crap has got to have a chilling effect, or at least increase the cost of having your say – as you have to budget a dollar to say something and two dollars for lawyers to defend you in court.

    And I’m SO not impressed with complaints about “lobbyists” and “special interests.” If it’s a group or cause with which you sympathize, then it’s just NARAL representing for the rights of women. But damn those special interest people at the NRA representing for gun owners.

    Besides which, so far as I remember, the constitutional liberties are supposed to apply to all citizens – even evil rich people who work for insurance companies and such.

    I’m also less than impressed with people whining about “attack ads.” Quit being such a bunch of pussies. In fact, most of the “attack” ads I’ve seen (particularly on the Republican side) have been perfectly legitimate attempts to criticize the other candidate’s records. Mitt Romney in particular hasn’t made any kind of personal attack ads. If politicians don’t like having their lame records skewered, then they shouldn’t be accumulating lame records.

    Also, a little bit of attacking is good. It’s like my litter of coon dogs fighting each other in the yard, toughening each other up very gently compared to what they’ll get first time they have to tangle asses with a coon. Likewise for presidential candidates. If Obama can’t handle what Hillary’s dishing out, then he ain’t ready to deal with Al Qaeda.

  • Lee Richards

    That was either very subtle of you, Al, or an unconscious Freudian slip–linking ‘coon’ and Obama.

  • And I’m SO not impressed with complaints about “lobbyists” and “special interests.”

    In many ways those lobbyists and special interests represent the people and their interests better and more directly than the Congress does, and they deserve to have a voice in government.


  • From the time a congressperson is elected, their main job is to raise money for the next election. Serving their constituency and making reasoned decisions about issues become a distant second and third on their lists. That’s a damn shame, and don’t tell me you think it’s a good thing.

    And 30-second television ads, the main reason so much money is required, are not, shall we say, a very thorough or nuanced medium in which to explore issues or candidates. They only serve to deliver quick hits, sound bites. They lend themselves most easily to attack and distortion. Referring to them as honest contrasts in records is embarrassing hogwash.

    An honest contrast in candidates’ records would obviously require far more time and far more words, and would force candidates to reveal the exceptions to their over-generalizations, and to acknowledge the rationales behind their opponents’ opinions and their own.

    I find Al’s defense of attack ads and Dave’s defense of lobbyists as offensive [and as disingenuous] as, well, attack ads and lobbyists.

    If the two of you actually think the state of political discourse in this country is fine and healthy, then I’d say you deserve the consequences of it. The rest of us see a dysfunctional, ugly system that distorts the basic tenets of democracy.

  • Handyguy, I grant that we need more than 30 second contrast ads to get a good picture of the candidates. We need better, longer and far less formatted debates. I’d love to see a moderator-less discussion. Set the candidates around a table and point a camera at them for a couple of hours and have an open discussion.

    Congressmen and candidates raising money all day isn’t a great thing either, but raising money’s also a legitimate part of proving that they have support. Note that this story is nothing to do with any candidate. It’s an independent group that doesn’t like Hillary. Their efforts aren’t requiring the attention of any candidate.

    Of course my views are properly and deeply offensive to all decent people who know what other people should be allowed to say and when, naturally. But in what way am I being “disingenuous”?

    Dear Lee Richards – Please kiss my ass over your cheap racialism. In this analogy, Obama and Hillary would be the coon dogs, like my beloved pups scrapping in the yard. It’s a natural point of comparison to me, as I in fact have a yard full of coon dogs. For the record, they are all very friendly with all humans – including the occasional black guy – or they wouldn’t be here. However, I wouldn’t recommend that a raccoon (or stray cat) come strolling casually into the yard.

    It occurred to me that having the idea of a raccoon anywhere in the same story or comments in any way with anything to do even partway with a black person might be grounds for some asshole to accuse me of racism. However, I goddam well refuse to accept or twist myself into compliance with that kind of nonsense. Please to get bent.

  • Lee Richards

    Lighten up, Al. If politics is going to make you so testy and humorless, maybe you ought to try yoga, or heavy drinking.

  • Brother Richards, perhaps I’m just a bit paranoid. I’ll just say that I’ve had something of a history of schmucks reaching way, way out to try to make me out as Grand Wizard of the Klan. So maybe I’m just seeing stuff what wasn’t your intent. If so, I apologize profusely.

  • Lee Richards

    Thanks, Al.
    I enjoyed and appreciated your article, and was just trying to poke a little fun at our PC tendencies that sometimes can find offense where there is none.

  • Baronius

    Al, that comment #9 was priceless. I’m glad to see someone defend the special interests.

    Dave, your defense of McCain is interesting. You seem to think that he wasn’t ignoring the Constitution, just incompentent in defending it. Further, his error came in trusting government regulators to behave prudently. So McCain isn’t authoritarian; he’s just a sloppy liberal.

    I know this is off-topic, but a lot of people see McCain-Kennedy in the same light. At worst, bad conception. At best, bad follow-through. It kind of makes me nervous about any legislation that has his name on it.

  • Thanks Baronius. Notice also that advocates for various kinds of welfare are just concerned about The Children, but businessmen trying to avoid being taxed or regulated out of business and keep more of their own money are greedy special interests.

    McCain just doesn’t have much in the way of political principles. It’s just whatever position strikes his fancy at the time. Hey, that global warming stuff sounds pretty cool. Let me get in on some of that! He’s got a pretty strong authoritarian streak that he can just start pushing whatever kind of dumbassery crosses his radar.

    He wants to have senate hearings on steroids in professional sports and think about what kind of federal intervention they can conjure up. Or at least he did a year ago when it was hot on top of the news cycle. Hard telling what kind of nonsense some newspapers could talk him into.

    To his credit, McCain’s rise this year seems to distinctly be in the biggest part as credit for his stalwart roll in Iraq. If the Manchurian Candidate is going to be president, I’d be glad that it be for that good reason.

    Brother Richards, my only defense is that my people are from Kentucky, so I might be a little slow on the uptake. I guess I was just having a small haunt from the ghosts of Christmas past, in which people were seriously trying to pin the KKK tail on my dumb ass with far dumber shit than the coon dog stuff. Ya kick a dog a few times, and they’ll start flinching if somebody just looks at them. My bad.

  • Dave, your defense of McCain is interesting. You seem to think that he wasn’t ignoring the Constitution, just incompentent in defending it. Further, his error came in trusting government regulators to behave prudently. So McCain isn’t authoritarian; he’s just a sloppy liberal.

    Not quite the way I’d put it. I think he’s a well intentioned conservative who believes in the value of bipartisanship and compromise and thinks that it’s better to achieve a partial victory than get nothing done at all by standing on principle. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it leads to half-assed legislation like McCain-Feingold.


  • Pablo


    You said in your article:

    “No one was trying to get Michael Moore’s ridiculous Fahrenheit 9/11 movie dragged into court like this.”

    I suggest that you google Fahrenheit 9/11 AND McCain Feingold Or google Fahrenheit 9/11 AND mcCain Feingold AND court, before categorically stating something in your essay that is simply not true.

  • Baronius

    Dave, sometimes it’s great to compromise rather than stand on principles. Not when the principles are Constitutional, though.

    Rich Lowry wrote a good piece on McCain for National Review Online. One passage from it: “McCain is an America nationalist and progressive reformer in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, but the real consistent line throughout his career is a belief in his own righteousness. This can lead him to great prescience, as on the surge; foolhardy lack of proportion, as on his crusade for campaign-finance reform; and party-splitting, self-destructive stubbornness, as on immigration reform.