Live Online Policy Forum

John Roberts and Free Speech: A Report on the Roberts Court’s First Amendment Jurisprudence

October 12, 2020 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM EDT

Live Online

Featuring study authors Ronald Collins, Harold S. Shefelman Scholar (retired), University of Washington School of Law; and David L. Hudson Jr., Assistant Professor, Belmont University College of Law; with comments by Robert Corn‐​Revere, Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute; and Lyrissa Lidsky (@LidskyLidsky), Dean and Judge C. A. Leedy Professor of Law, University of Missouri; moderated by Ilya Shapiro (@ishapiro), Director, Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute.

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I’m probably the most aggressive defender of the First Amendment. Most people might think that doesn’t quite fit with my jurisprudence in other areas.… People need to know that we’re not doing politics. We’re doing something different. We’re applying the law.

—Chief Justice John Roberts

More than any other Supreme Court justice in recent history, John Roberts has played a defining role in shaping the contours of our free‐​speech law. He’s written more than twice as many majority opinions in this area than any of his colleagues, which gives his jurisprudence staying power. There’s a certain resolve, at once philosophical and tactical, at work here. In 95 percent of the free‐​expression cases decided during his 15‐​year tenure, Roberts has been in the majority. Equally revealing, Roberts has taken the lead opinion nearly 30 percent of the time. In other words, there’s something special about this genre of cases, something that speaks to who Roberts is and what he hopes the Court bearing his name might be remembered for. In the first comprehensive report on the Roberts Court’s free‐​speech jurisprudence, Ronald Collins and David Hudson—each of whom has published more than 10 books on free speech—examine the 56 such cases handed down by the Roberts Court from 2005 through 2020. Beyond its focus on Chief Justice Roberts, the authors’ eye‐​opening study provides a detailed look at the cases, the justices’ differing approaches, and lawyers who have played key roles in influencing the Court.

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