Geoffrey Stone and David Strauss Discuss the Past and Future of Free Speech

Free speech law at 100

In 1919 the Supreme Court decided Schenck v. United States, its first decision on the First Amendment. The court’s unanimous ruling in the wartime case allowed the punishment of socialist Charles T. Schenck for distributing pamphlets urging men to resist the draft. Freedom of speech, wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes for the majority, could be restricted if the speech presented “a clear and present danger.”

Over the next 100 years, First Amendment law has grappled with ever-changing communications technology and evolving dilemmas. In The Free Speech Century (Oxford University Press, 2019), edited by Law School professor Geoffrey R. Stone, JD’71, and Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger, they and 16 scholars, including UChicago faculty members David A. Strauss, Laura Weinrib, and Tom Ginsburg, examine the past and future of the free speech doctrine in the United States and around the world. Strauss and Stone discussed our free speech moment at the Seminary Co-op in January. This extract from their conversation has been edited and condensed.—Laura Demanski, AMʼ94

STRAUSS: Lots of times when people say the such-and-such century, like the American Century, they mean it’s over—that this was a golden age but now we’re at least worried that the era is coming to an end. Is either part of that what you had in mind, or what you think is true?

STONE: It’s actually not what we had in mind. But there’s no doubt that we are living through a period in which many of the basic precepts of the First Amendment, as it developed over time, are called into question by changes in the nature of the media.

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