Here’s a quote from the bill, already voted upon and passed by Congress (the excerpt is shortened for readability, emphasis mine):
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled…That if any persons shall unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States…or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty;…whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor….
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States,…then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Let me ask all of you that find yourselves opposing the actions of Wikileaks: do you support the content of this bill? Do you read it, imagine it being applied to Wikileaks, and feel a sense of victory and pride over even the possibility of convicting Julian Assange under these provisions?
“Unfortunately”, this text is in fact from “The Sedition Act of 1798” (full text), the fourth bill passed in the series of bills more commonly known as the “Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798“, passed in reaction to a quasi-war being fought with France. It was written into the law that the Act would expire in 1801 right before John Adams’ term was up.
Though it expired before it could receive Supreme Court and judicial assessment (the precedent for Supreme Court jurisdiction over Congressional Acts had not even been established yet), this Act had plenty of feedback and reflection through the years.
Thomas Jefferson (the Vice President at the time) and other political leaders railed against the Act claiming First Amendment Free Speech violations. Multiple States passed laws shortly after the Sedition Act’s passage declaring that they would not obey it (they claimed it violated Tenth Amendment precedent to force states to comply to a law giving the Federal government a power not explicitly given to it by the Constitution).
The Supreme Court has at multiple times mentioned the Act in their opinions on similar cases, every time claiming its unconstitutionality. Read these searches for “Sedition Act” in the opinions of the Court in The New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) and Watts v. United States (1969). In fact, after the bill expired and John Adams was out of office, Congress paid back every fine that was levied against individuals convicted under this bill.
Under this act (if it were still in effect) not only would Wikileaks be found guilty of legal wrongs against the United States for what it has published, but also publications like The New York Times, any other newspapers or magazines that have repeated the material from the leaked documents, any blogs that have done so, and any server/hosting sites that have stored any of the information (this would include not only the URL hosting site and the company offering server space, but also search engine cached pages and internet service providers’ DNS and IP number lists).
So for those that would have applauded the passage of this Act today in reaction to Wikileaks: is this the world you would have us live in? A world with no freedom for the press and others to reveal wrongs and corruptions within the government? Even with the perspective of history behind us, would you really support a bill that would be tantamount to reviving the Sedition Act of 1798–that so-maligned and so-universally-agreed-upon travesty of justice and liberty? If so, I pray you never have the chance to live under the yoke of this world you long to see.