Say What You Will

Jeffery Rosen in The New York Times:

Rosenspan600 FREEDOM FOR THE THOUGHT THAT WE HATE: A Biography of the First Amendment. By Anthony Lewis.

Throughout his long career as an author and a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, Anthony Lewis has been one of the most inspiring advocates of a heroic view of the American judiciary. Each year I read aloud to my criminal procedure students the final paragraphs of “Gideon’s Trumpet,” Lewis’s definitive account of the 1963 Supreme Court case that recognized a constitutional right to court-appointed counsel. They never fail to bring a lump to the throat — at least to mine. In his new book, “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate,” Lewis offers a similarly heroic account of how courageous judges in the 20th century created the modern First Amendment by prohibiting the government from banning offensive speech, except to prevent a threat of serious and imminent harm. “Many of the great advances in the quality — the decency — of American society were initiated by judges,” he writes. “The truth is that bold judicial decisions have made the country what it is.”

In the 21st century, the heroic First Amendment tradition may seem like a noble vision from a distant era, in which heroes and villains were easier to identify. But that doesn’t diminish the inspiring achievements of First Amendment heroism. Conservative as well as liberal judges now agree that even speech we hate must be protected, and that is one of the glories of the American constitutional tradition. Anthony Lewis is right to celebrate it.

More here.