Freedom Of Speech Essays

MARCH 8, 2019 IT MAY COME as a surprise that in a nation so closely identified with a long tradition of robustly protecting free speech, it took 128 years for the US Supreme Court to grapple with the breadth and meaning of the First Amendment.In 1919, for the first time in American history, the Court was confronted with a series of cases that pitted the demands of patriotism and national security against the Constitution’s unqualified command that Congress “shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Early that year, driven by the intellectual force of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the Court rejected the First Amendment claims of several antiwar dissidents.In the fever pitch surrounding the United States’s entry into World War I, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the more draconian Sedition Act of 1918, which together imposed severe prison sentences and fines on any communications deemed disloyal or unpatriotic toward the government, the flag, or the military.

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Yet by the fall, Holmes had changed his mind and together with Justice Louis Brandeis they became the dissenters, extolling the value of protecting free speech even — indeed, particularly — in times of national crisis.

2019 is not only the 100th anniversary of that seminal year — it is also a year in which confident assumptions about the permanence of free speech and a free press are under assault.

In short, it is a perfect occasion to examine the growth, development, and future of the First Amendment.

To tell that intriguing story, two of the nation’s foremost scholars of freedom of speech and the press, Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, and Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H.

¤ In the second part of , six writers tackle several major contemporary First Amendment controversies, including campaign finance reform, free speech on campus, government secrecy, and obscenity.

In two highly engaging essays, Floyd Abrams, a leading First Amendment litigator and adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, and Lawrence Lessig, Roy L.

Before 1919, when the few cases challenging such laws reached the Supreme Court, in opinions written by Holmes, the Court had refused to invoke the First Amendment to protect, for example, the publication of articles and cartoons criticizing a state supreme court or an article defending anarchists right to bathe in the nude.

Consequently, it was unremarkable that Holmes continued to lead the Court in that direction when the cases of antiwar dissidents reached his desk.

According to Holmes, Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such nature and used in such circumstances as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent.

Holmes illustrated his point by writing one of the most famous (and oft-misquoted) sentences in Supreme Court history: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” However, only eight months later, in November 1919, joined by his protégé Justice Brandeis in the case , Holmes would signal a dramatic and pivotal shift in his approach to the First Amendment.


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