William O. Douglas Lecture: Current Challenges to the First Amendment

Nadine Strossen, William O. Douglas Lecture: Current Challenges to the First Amendment, 36 Gonz. L. Rev. 279 (2001).

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I am honored to follow in the footsteps of the many distinguished lecturers in this prestigious series, including the “supreme” Supreme Court Justice who delivered the inaugural lecture in 1972.[2] William O. Douglas has always been one of my heroes.

There has never been a stauncher civil libertarian on the Court.[3] When I was in law school, Justice Douglas was still on the Court, and I used to be so cheered by his opinions. Even though they were usually dissents, at least someone on the Court was voicing the civil libertarian approach to constitutional issues. After all, some earlier dissents in this spirit were later adopted by majorities to become the law of the land-for example, the dissents by another judicial hero of mine and of William Louis Brandeis.[4]

In contrast, when you consider the current Court, on too many civil liberties issues, not even one Justice carries forward the Brandeis-Douglas legacy-even in dissent. For example, since Justice Marshall resigned in 1991, there has not been a single strong, consistent advocate of the rights of individuals accused of committing crimes,[5] or even of the Fourth Amendment rights iof everyone – those of us who are not even suspected of committing a crime.[6]

As another example, since Justice Blackmun resigned in 1994, not a single member of the Court has opposed the death penalty as inherently unconstitutional.[7] In short, twenty-fice years ago I regretted that so many of Justice Douglas’ Supreme Court opinions were dissents. But now I have come to have the glass-half-full perspective on them. They were, after all, Supreme Court opinions… Read more

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