Bill Turner — The Roberts Court and the First Amendment
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Bill Turner — The Roberts Court and the First Amendment

Here we are near the very epicenter
of the Free Speech Movement, and with all the to-do this year on campus and in
downtown Berkeley about free speech this seems like a good time for a course on
free speech. You know when you say “I have a First Amendment right to say that” or
“that violates my First Amendment rights” what you’re really doing is making a
prediction that at least five members of the current United States Supreme Court
will agree with you. Because the First Amendment means what the majority of the
court say it means: no more and no less. The current court of course is the
Roberts Court under the leadership of John G Roberts, Jr. the Chief Justice
appointed by President George W. Bush. The Roberts Court has decided more free
speech cases than any court in history: more than the Warren Court, more than any
going all the way back. And most of the rulings have been favorable to First
Amendment protection. That’s good, right? Well, many of the cases have involved
speech or speakers that you might not like and that you might even find
despicable. Here’s a sample of some of the cases that the Roberts Court has
ruled on protecting the free speech interest: the homophobic and
anti-catholic protestors at funerals, the anti-abortion protesters at abortion
clinics, trademarks that are racial slurs, registered sex offenders having access
to social media, a politician who flat-out lied about receiving the Medal
of Honor, videos of illegal dogfights, extremely violent video games, and
corporations spending on Elections as in the infamous Citizens United case.
Why does the court protect this kind of speech and these kinds of speakers?
Well that’s what the course is about: trying to wrestle with the court’s
opinions and make sense of them and discover if there’s a consistent and
coherent rationale for how the court should decide free speech issues. We’ll
pay close attention to the court’s actual opinions — I’ve edited many of them to
get rid of the procedural underbrush and so on, footnotes, stuff that gets in the
way — and they’ll they’re posted on the OLLI website. You can read them if you
wish. You don’t have to; you don’t have to do any homework at OLLI. I think reading
them — getting your information from the horse’s mouth — is a good idea but I’ll
cover everything that I think is important in class. So by Thanksgiving if
you take this course you’ll be the expert at the dinner table on the
virtues and the vices of the rulings of the Roberts Court on free speech.
Thursdays at 1:00 right here. Thank you.

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