Tagged: legal journalism

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FAN 163 (First Amendment News) Sanford Ungar Heads New Free Speech Project at Georgetown University

At the heart of this project is how universities and American society at large can uphold the First Amendment while also protecting people from harassment and threats of violence. We will study the condition of free speech in America today, both in higher education and in civil society, in an attempt to create frameworks that promote public discussion about divisive issues in a civil manner. — Sanford J. Ungar

Some know him as the president emeritus of Goucher College. Others know him as a vetran journalist with UPI, or as a former Washington editor of The Atlantic, or as a past director of the Voice of America.  Still others know him as the former dean of the School of Communication at American University. And yet others know him as the author of The Papers & The Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers (1973). Now Sandy Ungar has a new job title: director of The Free Speech Project (Georgetown University), with funding from the Knight Foundation.

Sanford Ungar (credit: Lumina Foundation)

Here is the focus of The Project: “Pitched battles in the streets of Berkeley, California, as rival factions fight over who should be allowed to speak at one of America’s great public universities.  A faculty member seriously injured on the idyllic campus of Middlebury College in Vermont as violence erupts at a talk by a controversial visitor that she attempted to moderate.  Bedlam on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives with pistol-packing legislators threatening to kill each other.  A Princeton professor receives death threats and goes into hiding after cellphone videos of a commencement speech she gave in New England, in which she criticized President Trump, go viral. A massive replica of the Ten Commandments erected near the Arkansas State Capitol, but bulldozed into smithereens hours later by an angry citizen. A neighborhood pizza parlor in the nation’s capital hurled into the spotlight after a “fake news” conspiracy report inspires a North Carolina man to open fire in the restaurant. One of America’s great newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, reduced to recruiting subscribers by promising ‘We publish what’s REAL.'”

“What is happening to Free Speech in America?  The Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, launched with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, aspires to find out and to analyze the condition of First Amendment values.”

Here is how The Project is described: “The project’s Free Speech Tracker, perhaps the first of its kind, documents incidents across the country over the past two years and going forward, as well as monitoring activity in state legislatures seeking to curb or calm public protest.”

“‘Our theory,’ says Ungar, a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Georgetown since 2014, ‘is that these incidents and various legislative initiatives are all related.'”

“‘When you have stark and deadly confrontations in Charlottesville and brawls and death threats on the floor of the Texas legislature, you cannot expect college and university campuses to be islands of civility and peaceful debate,’ he adds. ‘We have to understand and deal with the fact that some young people may try to shut down speech they find offensive because they are worried that they won’t have their own opportunity to speak up and be heard.'”

“‘Our nation was founded on the principles of free debate and dissent as enshrined in the First Amendment,’ said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. ‘At various times in history these rights have been challenged and are now being tested in an America where trust in institutions, in news and in each other grows more tenuous. To preserve the First Amendment, we must examine and better understand the forces that might jeopardize its future.’

“Ungar says the independent and nonpartisan Free Speech Project will address such concerns by looking more deeply into volatile incidents and emerging legislation around the country.”

Website, video & archives 

“The website eventually will include videos of one-on-one interviews by Ungar with key thinkers in the free speech debate, and currently contains an archive of commentary and analysis from newspapers and other sources concerning freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights.”

“The archive covers five areas – legal jurisprudence, campus incidents, legislative developments, freedom of the press and government secrecy, and civil society.”

“‘Free Speech is debated and analyzed at a dizzying pace by leading thinkers and journalists around the country and throughout the world,’ Ungar says. ‘We can’t compile every article related to free speech, but we do hope to offer commentary across the political spectrum to show the wide-ranging perspectives and viewpoints on this issue.'”

Project to host programs

“Operating out of Georgetown but independent of the university, the project will also sponsor public programs – on campus in its first year and later in other venues – where various constituencies can contribute ideas about how to reestablish national respect for fundamental First Amendment values while also promoting civility and inclusiveness.”

“‘We need to focus on how better to preserve and protect free speech, but also get buy-in from all the people and groups that believe in free expression and are in a position to promote it,’ Ungar explains. ‘This is fundamental to the survival of American democracy, especially in these turbulent times.'”

Sanford J. Ungar, Bannon called the media the ‘opposition.’ He’s right, and it’s a good thing, Washington Post, Feb. 7, 2017

Just In: ** David Shortell, Sessions to wade into divisive campus free speech debate, CNN, Sept. 26, 2017 **

Coming: Major Conference on Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten

Title of Event: A Decision for the Ages: A Symposium Marking the Centenary of Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten

Co-hosted by:

  • New York University School of Law
  • Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.

Date, Time & Location: The symposium will be held at New York University School of Law on Friday, October 20, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Greenberg Lounge.  A reception will follow.

Program:

Historical and Cultural Background

  • Amy Adler, Emily Kempin Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
  • Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School
  • David Rabban, Dahr Jamail, Randall Hage Jamail and Robert Lee Jamail Regents Chair and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas School of Law

The Masses Case: Dramatis Personae and Decision

  • Edward A. Purcell, Jr., Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor of Law, New York Law School
  • Eric Easton, Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law
  • Vincent Blasi, Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties, Columbia Law School

 Aftermath of the Masses Decision

  • Thomas Healy, Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law School
  • Mark Graber, University System of Maryland Regents Professor, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
  • Paul Bender, Professor of Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University (via videoconference)

The Influence of Masses on Modern First Amendment Doctrine

  • Burt Neuborne, Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties, New York University School of Law
  • James Weinstein, Dan Cracchiolo Chair in Constitutional Law, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
  • Martha Field, Langdell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Replay: Podcast — Judge Richard Posner on the First Amendment

  • On the retirment of Judge Richard Posner, Nico Perrino over at FIRE’s So to Speak replayed a First Amendment Salon interview Professor Geoffrey Stone did with Judge Posner back in May of 2016.

→ See also: Nico Perrino, The British free speech invasion, So to Speak, Sept. 21, 2017

Video: Cato Constitution Day Panel: “First Amendment Challenges” Read More

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Mike Sacks on Supreme Court Reporting from the Front Lines

Sometime before commencement of the Supreme Court’s 2009 term, Mike Sacks, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, had an idea.  Taking advantage of his close living proximity to the Court, Mike would attempt to be the first one in line for all of the major oral arguments for the Court’s term. In addition, he would interview people in line about why they were there and their impressions of the Court and the case to be argued. And, most importantly, he would start a blog to report on his experiences. Mike has been engaging in legal journalism from a unique vantage point: from the front lines — or, from the “front of the line” — of the Supreme Court. Mike’s bright idea has resulted in a successful Supreme Court blog, First One @ One First.  [Recall Mike’s mission to be the “first one” in line at “One First” Street NE (the Court’s address).] Click HERE for the blog’s mission statement. Mike’s experiences and blogging have been featured in the New York Times (see HERE as well), National Public Radio, the ABA Journal, the Washington Post’s WhoRunsGov/PostPolitics, The Atlantic, Slate, Volokh Conspiracy, Above the Law, and other outlets.

Mike’s blogging has also launched the beginning of what is likely to be a successful career in legal journalism. In fact, Mike wrote the cover story for last week’s issue of the Christian Science Monitor.  He has also been blogging at some premier legal blogs. Below, Mike answers some of my questions about his reporting experiences, his impressions of the Court’s term, and his perspective on the Supreme Court in general.

1.  Could you talk briefly about how and why you came up with this idea of what might be called “legal journalism from the front lines?”

Because Concurring Opinions is more of an academic blog, I’ll start with F1@1F’s intellectual underpinnings.  As the Citizens United rehearing approached last September, I noticed that the Roberts Court’s dockets and decisions from OT06 through OT08 appeared to track the surrounding political climate.  Once so boldly conservative on all the hot buttons when operating under the cover of Republican-controlled Legislative and Executive branches, the Roberts Court–now operating alongside Democratic political branches–appeared to have shaped an exceedingly modest OT09 docket so to have enough political capital to spend on Citizens United without irreparably damaging the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

I wanted to test my hypothesis that the Roberts Court was not only sensitive, but also responsive, to its surrounding political climate. Of course, I could have done this by reading transcripts of oral argument and digging through the decisions once released.  But I lived four blocks from the Court and had already had a blast camping out for Citizens United / Sotomayor’s first day.  When I noticed I had no morning classes for the Spring Term on the Court’s argument days, I really decided to make this an in-the-flesh project.

But I wouldn’t have followed through so thoroughly had I not had vocational motivations as well.  I entered law school very interested in constitutional law, politics, and media.  After my first year, I interned for Nina Totenberg at NPR.  That was the summer of Heller and Boumediene.  I so enjoyed that experience that I took a semester off to work at ABC News’s Law & Justice Unit in New York, where I covered the legal aspects of the 2008 Presidential Election and the Wall Street meltdown.  Once back at school and on the job market, I thought there was no better way to make myself attractive to both legal and media employers than to build a body of work on the Supreme Court beat.

Nevertheless, just another person writing about the Court out in the ether wouldn’t have been too compelling.  But getting out in line at disturbingly early hours and telling the tales of those crazy enough to join me – now that’s something no one had ever done. Indeed, if the Court is responsive to the political climate, and if public opinion on any given case is the “weather” that shapes our broader climate, then I figured those who cared enough to get out in line on bitterly cold mornings well before the sun came up would make a very good representative sample for the people who shape public opinion.  By asking these folk, “why are you here?”, I would be committing interesting journalism while also informing my research about the Roberts Court.

2.   What unique insights have your experiences over the past term given you about the Supreme Court and the justices?

Chief Justice Roberts is a superb political strategist.  He’s steering a right-of-center Court through a left-of-center government and knows which storms his ship can handle and which it cannot.  I wrote prospectively about this back in December, Jeff Rosen of The New Republic wrote about it in February, and Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote about it just the other day.

What we’ve seen this year is the birth of John Roberts’ Court.  It will always, to a degree, remain the Anthony Kennedy Court as well, until he leaves the bench or one of the conservatives is replaced by a liberal.  But Roberts took control this year in the Court’s decisionmaking that we haven’t yet seen.  The next interesting thing to look out for is what issues beyond Miranda, guns, arbitration, and campaign finance the Chief believes are ripe for conservative gains as the Congress and the Presidency remain in Democratic hands.
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