Genevieve Lakier Honored for Article on ‘Low-Value Speech’

Assistant Professor Genevieve Lakier has been awarded the 2016 Harry W. Stonecipher Award for Distinguished Research in Media Law and Policy for her 2015 article, "The Invention of Low-Value Speech," which challenges the claim that there have always been categories of unprotected “low-value speech.”

The award, given by the Law and Policy Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, recognizes top work in legal scholarship concerning freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and communication law and policy.

“Your article was selected both for its contribution to First Amendment theory and for addressing the practical implications of the application of that theory in ‘a way that many theory-heavy articles fail to do,’” the chairperson of the award selection committee told Lakier in an email, quoting one of the reviewers. He added that another reviewer had called the paper “a brilliant piece.”

The article, which was published in June 2015 in the Harvard Law Review, is part of Lakier’s larger project to examine the changing judicial interpretation of what counts as speech and what principles distinguish speech that is protected by the First Amendment from unprotected speech. In this paper, Lakier delved into the nineteenth-century case law dealing with freedom of speech to rebut the Supreme Court’s claims that the categories of speech that are today considered to be low value have always been considered outside the scope of constitutional protection for speech.

“I loved writing the paper, because it allowed me to immerse myself in these wonderful nineteenth-century cases, and to explore how dramatically our understanding of freedom of speech has changed over time,” Lakier said. “I am truly honored to receive the award, and hope that whatever light it shines on the paper will encourage other scholars to delve into the rich, but understudied, nineteenth-century history of freedom of speech as well.”

The award, which comes with a $1,000 cash prize, was named for an influential First Amendment educator who nurtured a number of media law scholars during his 15-year career at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, beginning in 1969. Lakier received the award on August 5 at the AEJMC’s annual conference.

Lakier, who has a PhD in anthropology as well as a JD and master’s in cultural anthropology, joined the Law School’s faculty as an assistant professor in 2015 after completing a Bigelow Teaching Fellowship. Her research focuses on the intersection between culture and law; in addition to her First Amendment work, she has explored the changing role of the state in the regulation of sexuality and sex work.

A Q&A with Lakier about "The Invention of Low-Value Speech" is available online.