Langue Verte

Using history to move forward the public dialogue on free speech and social justice.

Clement L. Vallandigham: Free Speech Martyr for the Copperheads

For this blog, I have mostly been looking at events in the 20th century (roughly 1917-1980), when modern free speech jurisprudence developed. Yet, the history of free speech obviously goes back before the First World War. I came across this amusing video from LegalEagle on Youtube the other day,1 which sparked an interest in the case of Clement L. Vallandigham, an Ohio Democratic politician and lawyer. While the video was focused on Vallandigham’s death (he accidentally shot himself while defending his client), an earlier event of his life caught my attention. During the Civil War, Vallandigham was arrested for giving a speech opposing the war effort and demanding a “peaceful” resolution to the Civil War. I think the case presents some interesting information to consider when discussing free speech.

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The Democratic Response to Former President Trump's First Amendment Impeachment Defense

As I talked about in my last post, a good portion of former President Trump's legal defense for his impeachment trial rests on the First Amendment. His lawyers' basic argument on these grounds is that Trump's speech on January 6th to his supporters – the speech that the prosecuting impeachment managers say was incitement to insurrection – was protected speech under the First Amendment. I mentioned previously that this was likely not a strong argument: first because impeachment is not a criminal trial and therefore has nothing to do with whether or not Trump's speech could be criminally prosecuted, and second because, even if the First Amendment did apply to impeachment, it would possible that Trump's speech would not warrant protection under the Brandenburg test.

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"Fight Like Hell:" Did Former President Trump Incite Violence and Does it Matter for his Impeachment Trial?

On January 6, 2021, as Congress prepared to certify the results of now-President Joe Biden's election in November, then-President Donald Trump held a rally near the White House. In his speech, Trump repeated numerous lies and distortions about the election with the usual brazen contradiction that dominated his time in office1 He ended his speech with a call to action, saying:

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State of the Debate || Should Free Speech Protect Racist Hate Speech?

As a Leftist in the United States, I am concerned about the power and influence of right-wing, racist, authoritarian groups and their ideas. Recent years have seen a spike in hate crime cases1, while recent news reports have indicated that the Klu Klux Klan and other racist, white nationalist groups have secured positions in state and local police departments.2 Far-right groups have taken over federal buildings, murdered protesters, and plotted to murder more.3 The march in Charlottesville, Virginia; the murder of parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina;4 and police violence against unarmed black men and women are all causes of immense concern. They demand serious legislation, changes in cultural attitudes, marches, peaceful protests, dialogue, community building, boycotts, and more. Black lives matter.

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Book Review 5 || The Censors and the Schools

While walking through the local rec center with a friend last Fall, I found this book on a free-to-take bookshelf. Written in 1963, The Censors and the Schools recounts the wave of right-wing censorship against school textbooks and classroom instruction in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was nice to read this book, some of which covered ground I became familiar with when writing my master's thesis, some of which was completely new to me. The book presented me with some new research avenues I hope to explore in the future.

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State of the Debate: What's the Bigger Threat to Free Speech?

This week, anti-racist protesters in Portland, Oregon were picked up in unmarked vans, driven around, searched, and returned to the streets.1 For weeks following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, reporters have documented hundreds of incidents, most of them by police, targeting them and their equipment. Peaceful protesters, some in high-profile cases, have for weeks been attacked by police using chemical irritants and other projectiles, resulting in serious injury. President Trump and federal law enforcement have made sweeping generalizations about protesters – calling them a “violent mob” and promising retribution by federal officials. Dozens of people protesting Breonna Taylor's death by police received felony charges for a peaceful protest – charges that have now been dropped.2 Democratic Governor Ralph Northam imposed a strict curfew on anti-racist protesters on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Black Lives Matter protesters have had their chalk messages on public sidewalk erased by local officials.3 There is a pattern here of violence and intimidation being used against anti-racist protesters across the country by law enforcement and politicians. If that is not censorship, I am not sure what is.

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One Book Called Ulysses

Befitting an unusual book, the District Court opinion in the obscenity case against Ulysses is quite unusual, too.A Justice John M. Woolsey wrote the opinion, in which he declares that the book was not obscene. Therefore, it did not violate the Tariff Act of 1930 that banned the importation of obscene books. His opinion in December of 1933, was certainly unusual in that it was a rare high-profile overturning of an obscenity ban. However, it was also unusual in the novel argument that Woolsey made.

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Censoring of a Baby: Opposition to Birth of a Baby in print and film

On April 11, 1938 Life magazine published a series of thirty-five pictures entitled Birth of a Baby given to editor Roy Larsen by the American Committee on Maternal Welfare.1 Larsen and the Committee intended for the pictures, in conjunction with a film of the same title, to educate the American public about child birth. Their hope was to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality during childbirth. Despite this laudable purpose, for years both the film and the magazine article came under heavy censorship by religious and secular authorities. These authorities generally declared the film, the magazine article, or both to be obscene and therefore subject to the vast network of both informal and formal censorship that existed in the late 1930s.

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Free Speech Round-Up 10 | June 23, 2020

Today in free speech news, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam tries to shut down anti-racist protesters and an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post condemns police censorship.

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State of the Debate: Matt Taibbi on the Madness of Cancel Culture

Matt Taibbi is a journalist covering politics for the Rolling Stone, a podcaster, and a columnist with his own self-published website. On June 12, Taibbi put out an editorial on his site the crux of which is to criticize “cancel culture” on the political Left.1

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