Legal Cases

United States Supreme Court Building

Libel: Protecting Vital Political Speech

Until 1964 when the Supreme Court decided New York Times v. Sullivan, and extending back many centuries, public officials had the power to put down critics. They could easily win a libel suit because the burden was on the alleged offenders to defend themselves by proving the truth of their assertions, with no consideration for innocent error. The result: a[Read More…]

January 6, 2018 Legal Cases
United States Supreme Court Building

Ag-Gag Laws: Government Can’t Target Content of Speech

Ag-Gag Laws Face the First Amendment When Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, a reported novel that exposed the abuse of power in Chicago’s meatpacking industry, the public response was immediate, and federal regulation soon followed. More than a century later, whistleblowers play a major role in shaping public opinion and policy around agricultural practices. However, many states have enacted laws[Read More…]

January 6, 2018 Legal Cases
United States Supreme Court Building

Emotional Distress: “Outrageousness” Has an Inherent Subjectiveness

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress A satiric attack on Jerry Falwell, a Baptist pastor and founder of the conservative group, the Moral Majority, resulted in a major Supreme Court opinion protecting the First Amendment rights of satirists to deliver commentary mocking public figures in America. Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, initiated the conflict in 1983 when he published[Read More…]

October 10, 2017 Legal Cases, Libel, Offensive Speech
United States Supreme Court Building

Symbolic Speech: Our Inheritance from the Founding Period

What is Symbolic Speech and why is it important in our Free Speech debate? First Amendment Watch delves into this important topic. “Symbolic speech as a form of protest, like taking a knee at a football game while others stand for the National Anthem, enjoys a long history in America. It’s been a powerful form of political expression going back[Read More…]

October 2, 2017 Legal Cases
United States Supreme Court Building

Hate Speech: Freedom to Express the “Thought That We Hate”

Is offensive speech, and especially hate speech, protected by the First Amendment? Some protesters use profane and scurrilous language to make their point. Others like the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who marched at Charlottesville in August 2017 to oppose the removal of a Confederate statue use words or symbols of hatred directed against African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and other minorities.[Read More…]

September 11, 2017 Legal Cases
United States Supreme Court Building

Prior Restraint: Strong Protection Against Government Censorship

Prior restraints go at least as far back as 16th century England, when invention of the printing press made it possible to spread dissent and new ideas widely. Such publications could pose a threat to the Crown or accepted religious doctrine, so Henry VIII instituted a system of licensing and censorship to control the spread of ideas. The licensing and[Read More…]

September 11, 2017 Legal Cases, Prior Restraints
United States Supreme Court Building

Reporter’s Privilege: Shaky Protection for Confidentiality of Sources

Reporter’s privilege is the right asserted by journalists to keep their sources confidential in the face of a court order to reveal the information. The U.S. Supreme Court considered that issue only once, in 1972, in the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665. The Court in a 5-4 decision said that reporters did not enjoy a First Amendment[Read More…]

August 29, 2017 Legal Cases, News Gathering, Subpoenas
United States Supreme Court Building

Public Forums: Protecting Demonstrations in the Streets

The underlying law on public forums is well established. Traditional public forums include such areas as streets, sidewalks and parks that have a history of dedication to political speech. Public officials may not discriminate against people using a public forum based on their viewpoint, but can impose reasonable regulations relating to the time, place and manner of speech. Any restrictions[Read More…]

July 20, 2017 Legal Cases
United States Supreme Court Building

Privacy: Newsworthiness is a Strong Defense

Privacy (Embarrassing Private Facts) Disclosure of private facts about an individual, according to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, can give rise to liability if it involves information that “(a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and (b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.” Truth is not a defense to a private facts claim—the plaintiff is in[Read More…]

June 20, 2017 Legal Cases, Privacy