A superb history of the First Amendment and the body of law that has followed it.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and longtime Supreme Court observer Lewis (Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment, 1991, etc.), now retired from the New York Times, explains in the clearest of language how freedom of expression evolved in this country. Surprisingly, it was only in 1919 that a Supreme Court justice (Oliver Wendell Holmes) wrote that the First Amendment protected speech and publication, and that was in a dissent—not until 1931 did a majority on the Court begin enforcing the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Drawing examples from many cases, Lewis demonstrates that interpretations of the First Amendment shifted over time as the Supreme Court, and the public, began to recognize that freedom of expression was one of America’s basic values. He considers the ways in which freedom can conflict with such other values as the right to privacy, protection from hate speech, the safeguarding of national security and the right to a fair trial (i.e., one uncompromised by prejudicial press coverage). He also explores the evolution of laws against libel here and in Great Britain and reports on the impact of the landmark 1964 case, New York Times v. Sullivan, which ended the press’s fear of seditious libel actions and promoted the investigative spirit that led to critical coverage of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Anecdotes abound in this lively, lucid history. Among other choice bits, readers will learn which Supreme Court Justice viewing films for their possibly pornographic content took a law clerk with him to tell him what was happening on the big screen.
Timely and important, a work that astonishes and delights as it informs.