Books by Rodney A. Smolla

Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Eight legal correspondents and two law professors submit workmanlike essays on some major decisions of the 199293 Supreme Court. Editor Smolla (Marshall-Wythe School of Law at William and Mary College; Free Speech in an Open Society, 1992) had a fine idea: Assign top Supreme Court cases to top Supreme Court reporters and gather their reflections to provide a sense of constitutional ``process'' for a single year. But the result is a drab, myopic collection, too technical and bloodless for lay Court-watchers, yet too superficial and pedantic for lawyers. The essays, notably uniform in style and perspective, fail to do justice to some inherently fascinating subjects: hate-speech laws, habeas review of death-penalty cases, age discrimination, warrantless drug searches. Occasionally the reporters include a revealing bit of gossip (such as Anthony Kennedy's distaste for Antonin Scalia's ``slashing'' internal memoranda, known as ``Ninograms''), but the more common practice here is to insert, sometimes irrelevantly, a boilerplate mini-bio of a justice casting a critical vote. Two essays stand out: Writing on the Zobrest case (in which the Court found no First Amendment problem in providing a state-appointed interpreter for a deaf student attending a religious school), Knight-Ridder reporter Aaron Epstein briskly explores the facts and speculates knowledgeably about future church/state issues facing the Court. And Stephen Wermeil, former Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, contributes a humane, lucid account of a Georgia teen suing her school district for damages when the school's football coach sexually harassed her. Smolla's editorial comments, however, are redundant, patronizing, and oddly worshipful of Scalia (``a magnificent conservative''). A yawner from the Fourth Estate. Read full book review >
Released: April 2, 1992

A superb exposition of the significance of free speech and an analysis of how to preserve it in our increasingly complex society. Smolla (Law/Marshall-Wythe School of Law at William and Mary College) makes a case for an open culture—one in which free-speech values pervade and permit a robust and open exchange of ideas. Seeing the achievement of such a culture as ``an aspiration of transcendent importance,'' he envisions a society in which free speech is seen both as a means of testing and choosing the best ideas—the ``marketplace'' rationale for free speech—and as an end in itself. Smolla demonstrates, however, that, in practice, society attempts to establish limits on speech that often lead to significant diminution of speech. He analyzes the possible harms of speech—to persons and property; to social, transactional, and business relationships; to individuals and to communal sensibilities—and creates a theoretical hierarchy of harms that, in his view, can create a theoretical basis for regulating speech (how his theory can be reconciled with the absolutist language of the First Amendment is not clear). After discussing this theoretical groundwork, Smolla examines the application of free- speech principles in practical situations, which he divides broadly into political speech (such as hate speech, obscenity, individual privacy, and public funding of the arts) and issues raised by newsgathering (such as censorship in the Persian Gulf War, the attempt to restrain release of tapes in the Noriega case, and the challenges posed by new technologies). Avoiding easy answers, the author demonstrates an acute sensitivity to the importance of preserving free speech while recognizing the practical problems faced by policy-makers. Smolla takes a scholarly—yet accessible—approach to his subject and displays a sure knowledge of recent First Amendment jurisprudence. An excellent and important work. Read full book review >