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Introduction: OH What a Tangled Web They Weave

  • Helen J. Knowles
  • Steven B. Lichtman

Abstract

Appearances can be very deceptive. The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is linguistically straightforward and, at first glance, there appears to be no room for multiple interpretations. As Justice Hugo L. Black famously declared in 1959, “I read ‘no law abridging … ’ to mean no law abridging.”1 However, even Black, one of the Supreme Court’s staunchest defenders of free speech, was not a true First Amendment absolutist, because on several occasions he supported governmental abridgment of that freedom. He was, one might say, a “qualified absolutist.”2 For example, in United States v. O’Brien (1968) Black joined six of his colleagues in holding that David Paul O’Brien had no constitutionally protected right to burn his draft card on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse to protest the Vietnam War. Similarly, in Adderley v. Florida (1966) he refused to view expressive conduct as constitutionally protected speech. Black wrote the majority opinion upholding the convictions of a group of individuals who violated a state trespass law by assembling in the driveway of a county jail and protesting that institution’s incarceration policies (which included racial segregation).3 Ultimately, Black was no different from any other justice; a jurist who frowned upon any and all governmental efforts to suppress speech has never graced the Supreme Court’s bench.

Keywords

Free Speech Child Pornography Free Expression Supreme Court Justice Federal Election Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Rodney A. Smolla, Free Speech in an Open Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 24.Google Scholar
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    Justice Felix Frankfurter, quoted in David M. O’Brien, Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics, 9th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011), 280.Google Scholar
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    Some of the seminal readings addressing and/or employing these different models are Jeffrey A. Segal and Harold J. Spaeth, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630 (1919) (Holmes, J., joined by Brandeis, J., dissenting) (“the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market”). David Richards has argued that Holmes’s combination of the marketplace metaphor and the “clear and present danger” test meant that, “free speech protection would be extended only to the incredible fatuities of the lunatic fringe.” David A. J. Richards, “Free Speech as Toleration”, in Free Expression: Essays in Law and Philosophy, ed. W. J. Waluchow (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 33.Google Scholar
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    There was most definitely Supreme Court life before the Marshall Court and Marbury. For example, see Maeva Marcus, ed., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800, 8 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986–007).Google Scholar
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    J. R. Pole, ed., Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 2005), 455.Google Scholar
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    William M. Wiecek, The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 1760–1848 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 188Google Scholar
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  28. 40.
    One outlier was the 1917 decision, Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, 244 F. 535 (S.D.N.Y., 1917). In that case, the New York Postmaster had attempted to prevent The Masses—a self-described “monthly journal of revolution”—from mailing its July 1917 issue to subscribers. Federal District Judge Learned Hand declared that the Postmaster’s actions were a violation of the First Amendment, which, in his eyes, only allowed government to restrict speech that directly incited illegal acts (and The Masses contained no such speech). Although Hand was reversed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, his views on free speech would still prove to be influential. Indeed, as several scholars have suggested, the shift Holmes made on free speech—which Frederick Lewis chronicles in Chapter 1— began after Holmes found himself seated next to Hand on a train and the two jurists spent the remainder of the journey engaged in a deep discussion about the contours of the First Amendment. See Thomas Healy, The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America (New York: Henry Holt, 2013)Google Scholar
  29. G. Edward White, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    Mark A. Graber, Transforming Free Speech: The Ambiguous Legacy of Civil Libertarianism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Helen J. Knowles and Steven B. Lichtman 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen J. Knowles
  • Steven B. Lichtman

There are no affiliations available

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