Geoffrey R. Stone and Laura Weinrib on the History of Free Speech

One Hundred Years Of Free Speech

We think of the First Amendment as being central to our values, but its role has evolved. In 2008, Anthony Lewis told Brooke that "no claimant for free speech or freedom of the press won a case in the Supreme Court" during the freedom of speech's first 140 years.

In fact, our modern understanding of the First Amendment really comes from the 1920s. In a new collection of essays called The Free Speech Century, leading First Amendment thinkers reflect on what the law's trajectory has been in the courts and in our society in the last one hundred years. This week, Brooke talks with Geoffrey Stone (who co-edited the collection with Lee Bollinger) about misunderstandings about the First Amendment and how our free speech rights are still evolving. 

The common story is that this evolution came about thanks to the wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote an explosive 1919 dissent in Abrams v The United States asserting the importance of freedom of expression. But according to University of Chicago law professor Laura Weinrib, Holmes is only a small part of the story. The bigger story, she says, is about the labor movement, the ACLU and an unexpected alliance with business interests. She and Brooke talk about the expansion of free speech over the 20th century, and how labor's bargain played out.

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