Regulation and Free Speech

A mandate of the Dodd-Frank financial law, [a] Securities and Exchange Commission rule requires companies that use certain minerals linked to violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding region to file a report with the SEC saying what steps they took to verify the minerals weren’t taxed or controlled by rebel groups.

Never mind that those steps involve proprietary information.  Or that the government-mandated message would tar the companies, inaccurately, with a bigotry brush.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce, representing a broad group of businesses, in a hearing in federal district court in Washington said the regulation is unconstitutional because it forces companies to make disclosures linking their products to human-rights violations.

Paul Keisler, a lawyer representing the NAM and the Chamber, argued the rule is just a Scarlett Letter requirement and represents, further, government-mandated speech, not free speech.  Even so,

SEC Assistant General Counsel Tracey Hardin…argued the rule wasn’t different from advertising restrictions requiring fast-food restaurants to post the calories contained in their menu items or cigarette labels containing warnings about the dangers of smoking.

This, though, is just a cynical conflation of two widely disparate situations.  The one impacts directly the health (or not) of the user.  The other has no impact on the user, nor does it on the purported victims, since the minerals of interest here have a ready world-wide market, demonstrated by the high prices those minerals command.

Wait—there’s Citizens United.  But, no, Mr Corporation, that doesn’t count.  Just sit down and say the words Government gives you to say.

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