Home Opinion A Supreme Blow to Intimidation

A Supreme Blow to Intimidation


Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is unhappy with Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that reins in his ability to harass political opponents. Perhaps he and his fellow intimidators should have been less brazen.

The justices celebrated the Fourth of July with one of their more important First Amendment rulings in decades. The high court’s decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta strikes down an attempt by California politicians to cast what Chief Justice John Roberts called “a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year.” It also marked the court’s belated if crucial recognition that the 21st century requires a new approach to disclosure.

The risks of “bomb threats, protests, stalking, and physical violence,” the chief justice wrote, “seem to grow with each passing year,” giving “anyone with access to a computer” the power to compile information to destroy others. And the opinion’s references to past cases make clear the threat to donors doesn’t come only from hackers or doxxers but from government itself.

Mr. Whitehouse didn’t get a mention—the chief justice is a gentleman—but the senator can take a bow. For more than a decade, progressives have been weaponizing disclosure laws, using them to harass and intimidate political opponents. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin forged a popular tactic in 2013, using a letter to attempt to expose and shame donors to the free-market American Legislative Exchange Council—a naked effort to cripple the group.

Since then, Mr. Whitehouse has taken on the lead harasser role. He cloaks his intentions in warnings about “dark money” and “front groups.” But his threats have become so obvious that there is no longer any denying his objectives. Whether he’s demanding confidential financial information from free-market nonprofits or insisting on new rules to expose the donors to organizations that submit court briefs, his targets are always on one side—the right—and his clear goal is to punish them.