Weinrib Wins Two Prizes From American Society for Legal History

Office of Communications
November 9, 2013

At this week's annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History, Professor Laura Weinrib of the University of Chicago Law School received two awards: the Surrency Prize and the Paul Murphy Award.

The Surrency Prize, named in honor of Erwin C. Surrency, a founding member and first president of the Society and for many years the editor of its former publication, the American Journal of Legal History, is awarded annually for the best article published in the Society’s journal, the Law and History Review, in the previous year.

The 2013 Surrency Prize was awarded to Professor Weinrib for her essay, "The Sex Side of Civil Liberties: United States v. Dennett and the Changing Face of Free Speech," which appeared in Law and History Review, Volume 30, Number 2, pages 325-386.

The Committee's citation notes how "'The Changing Face of Free Speech' uses the ACLU deliberations and litigation around the 1930 case of U.S. v. Dennett, involving Post Office censorship of birth control literature and materials,  to open a window and shine a bright light on a variety of key issues beyond the evolution of American free-speech doctrine. Marshaling a broad range of primary and secondary sources, and writing with both verve and empathetic respect, Weinrib captures and explicates the tension between what we would today call 'social democracy' and 'social liberalism.'  Weinrib shows the reader how ­ in a manner redolent of contemporary rights conflicts‹very political commitments to social and economic transformation were themselves transformed, with and without intent and through sincere concerns with liberty and freedom, into political and cultural commitments to free expression and individual self-development. This shift in commitments changed not just the ACLU and its legal engagements but rather, alas, much of the agenda of progressive America to this very day."

The American Society for Legal History established the Paul Murphy Award in 2011 to provide two one-time awards of $5,000 to support the completion of books on civil liberties of any sort in any period of American history. The committee's citation for Professor Weinrib's award notes:

"Laura Weinrib¹s book project, The Taming of Free Speech, promises to enrich and complicate our understanding of the contested meaning of free speech after World War I through the 1930s. Weinrib reveals how a freedom originally rooted in a commitment to protecting labor radicalism and worker agitation became a value-neutral shield against government infringement of individual rights.  Paying particular attention to the early records of the American Civil Liberties Union and its predecessors, Weinrib uncovers conflicts, compromises, and unexpected convergences between state-centered progressive reformers and conservative legalists who contested the meaning of free speech in the 1920s and 1930s. Weinrib foregrounds the role of New Deal federal labor policy in divorcing the civil liberties agenda from redistributive goals and recasting free speech as a right enforceable in court and accessible to proponents of all political persuasions. Weinrib¹s insightful and deeply researched study promises to be a brilliant contribution to the history of civil liberties."

Faculty: 
Laura Weinrib