Justice Brennan and the First Amendment

Friday, December 03, 2010

Transcript

Justice William J. Brennan served on the Court from 1956 to 1990, and during that time helped forge the interpretation of the First Amendment we now take for granted. Seth Stern, Congressional Quarterly reporter and co-author of the new biography, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, talks about Brennan’s influence on libel, obscenity and speaking with fire.

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Comments [8]

coach factory

Money for me has only one sound: liberty.

Jan. 04 2011 07:34 PM
Asha B from Raleigh, NC

I believe that the First Amendment has been taken for granted. Although laws exist, you cannot control how people choose to respond to it. As the times change, so does one's interpretation of the law.

Dec. 10 2010 02:04 PM
Kyle McCarthy

The statement is forsure being taken for granted . The first amendment is a very big deal. But I do not believe they are necessarily strict.

Dec. 10 2010 09:58 AM
devin burch

I believe amendments have been made very strict. The 1st amendment is a very strong amendment to me. I do agree with the statement that it has been taking for granted.

Dec. 09 2010 08:35 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

It also allowed me an editorial response to a CBS affiliate that same evening on the subject of the four candidates for New Haven Mayor (two for each major party, when we Greens made it six candidates) and their solutions for our never-ending economic woes but it got buried with only one of the three promised plays when it turned out Bart Giamatti died while I taped it. Someone must have told him what I was likely to say!

Dec. 06 2010 09:42 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Ah, speaking with fire!

I remember back when, right after this Court decision, I announced that I would burn a flag as part of a campaign event in my (fake) quest to get the NH Green Party’s nomination to run for Mayor. We needed coverage while our true pick was on summer vacation, during the primary season here and the only time to really debate issues.

Our local NBC affiliate invested in a line to the White House to get George H.W. Bush’s response to a public political suicide. Luckily for them, a local Little League team was about to be in a World Series, when I burned a Yale flag as part of our theme of “Tax Yale, Not Us”. His response to that was underwhelming.
Got a great photo in the local daily the next day of many t.v. cameramen following me, with a burning banner, around for footage they never used, which was the desired result!

Dec. 06 2010 09:31 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Ah, speaking with fire!

I remember back when, right after this Court decision, I announced that I would burn a flag as part of a campaign event in my (fake) quest to get the NH Green Party’s nomination to run for Mayor. We needed coverage while our true pick was on summer vacation, during the primary season here and the only time to really debate issues.

Our local NBC affiliate invested in a line to the White House to get George H.W. Bush’s response to a public political suicide. Luckily for them, a local Little League team was about to be in a World Series, when I burned a Yale flag as part of our theme of “Tax Yale, Not Us”. His response to that was underwhelming.
Got a great photo in the local daily the next day of many t.v. cameramen following me, with a burning banner, around for footage they never used, which was the desired result!

Dec. 06 2010 09:31 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

'Law cannot stand aside from the social changes around it', Brooke approvingly quotes Brennan as saying. People on the Left might have these sentiments thrown back at them in times of 'social change' that do not fit their own politics. The most vigorous forces in the world today are Asian consumer-capitalism and reactionary fundamentalist Islam, while 'progressives' cling to the fading European social-democratic model. Here in the states, I'm prepared to argue that the biggest driver of 'social change' is the manner in which the two major political parties are slowly becoming horse-trading ethnic blocs, with Brennan-style white liberalism waning (as the current white-Left moaning about the Obama administration suggests) as a force.

Brennan's ideas were a product of his own time and social class, and haven't stood up very well. The First Amendment, the current Court has ruled, invalidates efforts to control campaign spending; the 'Right' can play the 'social change' game, too. The racial politics of the Brennan era are just about defunct; after years of white liberal rulings, kids today are as likely as ever to go to segregated schools. We're still fighting over Roe vs. Wade, which has distorted our politics, and the Court may still be only one vote away from throwing it out in favor of returning this question to voters. The current Brennan nostalgia hides the possibility that a future Court will repudiate most of Brennan's interpretations - and defenders of such rulings will point to quotations like that above in their own defense.

Dec. 06 2010 08:31 PM

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