In Defense of the First Amendment

Publication Date April 21, 2016

In the 20th century, news organizations played a major role in protecting the press and speech freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They went to the nation’s highest courts to fight for government documents, report fully on public figures, fight censorship and protect confidential sources. Their efforts helped to shape American laws on libel, privacy, prior restraint and many other legal principles. In the latter half of the 20th century, daily newspapers in particular paid hefty legal bills to fight for—and in some cases expand—speech and press rights.

In the past decade, however, economic pressures on traditional news companies appear to have diminished their capacity to engage in legal activity.  What’s more, the digital-age technologies that upended legacy media economics also have complicated First Amendment law. Today, Americans can carry a megaphone, a printing press, a protest march, a petition or even a virtual church in their pockets. We can exercise each of our First Amendment rights within a smartphone. These devices, and the electronic systems that make them possible, do not slide easily into existing law. 

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