“The words are the law.” Sound familiar? Of course, they are the words of none other than Justice Antonin Scalia, spoken at Catholic University of America on Oct. 18, 1996. As I considered them recently, I wondered, yet again, how the Justice’s view of textualism and originalism — I do not say “original intent,” which would be a breach of the Scalia creed — plays out in the First Amendment context. That took me back to the First Amendment debate between then Judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia in Ollman v. Evans (D.C. Cir., 1984), which is well worth reflective consideration. See e.g. Steven Calabresi & Lauren Pope, “Judge Robert H. Bork and Constitutional Change: An Essay on Ollman v Evans,” 80 U Chi. L. Rev. Dialogue 155 (2013).
All of this brings me to my main point: Though it is not news in the literal textualist sense, it was news to me and may likewise be so to many others — I refer to Justice Scalia’s March 8, 2012 Hugo Black lecture on freedom of expression at Wesley College. The title of that lecture was “The Originalist Approach to the First Amendment.” A packed audience of college students and others listened to lecture. “After Scalia’s 40-minute speech, protesters in the balcony of the chapel where he spoke unfurled a banner reading, ‘There can be no justice in the court of the conqueror’ and flung dozens of condoms carrying pro-gay rights and pro-abortion messages.”
As to the substance, here are a few samples of what Justice Scalia reportedly said (the full text is, to the best of my knowledge, unpublished):
Libel. According to a news report, the Justice maintained that “[t]here’s no doubt that libel of a public figure, even good faith libel of a public figure, was unprotected by the First Amendment in 1791. Indeed, it remains unprotected even today in England. But the Warren Court had determined, as the framers had not, that allowing good faith libel of public figures would be good for democracy. And so the First Amendment was revised accordingly . . . .”
As for symbolic speech expressed by way of conduct, Scalia was quoted as saying: “You should be in no doubt that patriotic conservative that I am, I detest the burning of the nation’s flag, and if I were king, I would make it a crime. But as I understand the First Amendment, it guarantees the right to express contempt for the government, Congress, the Supreme Court, even the nation and the nation’s flag.”
Associations. Further elaborating on his ideas, and in response to a question, the Justice added: “The text guarantees the freedom of speech. That freedom of speech was never withheld from associations of people. Associations of people can speak just as people can speak and can band together to make their speech more effective, pool their resources . . . . If you’re going to deny it to corporations, are you going to deny it to the Washington Post? Most newspapers, most sources of political commentary, are corporations. How do you create an exception for that in the First Amendment? Because freedom of speech and of the press? C’mon, ‘press.’ The word ‘press’ meant publishing—anybody—not the institutional press. I’m not sure they had an institutional press.”
Questions? Mindful of such considerations, and duly sensitive to the “text and traditions of our people” concerning the words of the First Amendment, one might respectfully ask the textualist/originalist the following questions:
- Does the constitutional restriction on “Congress” extend to the other branches of government such as the executive and judicial branches? If so, how?
- How should one interpret the constitutional ban against Congress making laws? (Consider Hans Linde, “‘Clear and Present Danger’ Reexamined,” 22 Stan. L. Rev. 1163, 1183 & n.66 (1970).)
- What does “abridging” mean and is it synonymous “prohibiting” or “denying”?
- What exactly does “freedom of speech” mean? Did “speech” mean “money,” as in spending money for expressive purposes? Whatever else it meant, for Justice Scalia the term “speech” apparently did not include anonymous speech as evidenced by his dissent in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995) and his concurrence in Doe v. Reed (2010).
- How far does the notion of “press” extend? (Consider Volokh here)
- How exactly should we understand the term “petition”? (Consider S. Higginson here)
- What does the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (apparently, the preferred edition?) tell us about such matters and how are we to discern the original “public meaning” insofar as these queries are concerned? Read More