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The Roberts Court's Free Speech Problem

2 Ratings: 4.0
New York Review editorial by David Cole


The Roberts Court's Free Speech Problem

David Cole


Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Former US President Jimmy Carter speaking during a joint press conference with Ismail Haniya, prime minister of Hamas, Gaza City, June 16, 2009

On January 21, in its first decision of this term, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court’s five-member conservative majority announced that the First Amendment bars Congress from imposing even mild constraints on the ways corporations can employ their vast financial resources to drown out the voices of ordinary people in federal election campaigns. On June 21, in one of its last decisions of the term, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the same majority, this time joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, ruled that the First Amendment permits Congress to imprison human rights activists for up to fifteen years merely for advising militant organizations on ways to reject violence and pursue their disputes through lawful means. The two decisions purported to apply the same First Amendment standard, but in fact the Court applied that standard in radically different ways. In the Roberts Court’s world, corporations’ freedom to spend unlimited sums of money apparently deserves substantially greater protection than human rights advocates’ freedom to speak.

Ronald Dworkin has cogently identified the errors in the Court’s legal reasoning in Citizens United, a decision President Obama himself has criticized. But you won’t see the President condemning the decision in Humanitarian Law Project, the first Supreme Court case to pit free speech rights against national security since the September 11 attacks. At issue was a federal law banning “material support” to “foreign terrorist organizations” even when the “support” consists only of speech advocating peace and human rights. The lower courts had repeatedly declared the provisions that … more

1 review about The Roberts Court's Free Speech Problem

A Quick Tip by Laur32

  • Jul 1, 2010
  • by
I think this review presents some excellent points, and a sad truth about the inconsistency and subjectivity of the Supreme Court which is difficult to overcome.
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