Friday, February 28, 2014
New York Times v. Sullivan at 50
As the faculty advisor to the Alabama Law Review, I'm delighted to note that the Law Review today is hosting a symposium on the 50th anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan. The editors did a wonderful job putting together a great list of speakers. We are welcoming Judge U.W. Clemon (ret.), who not incidentally was the first African-American federal district court judge in the state; Judge Robert Sack of the Second Circuit; and Professors Sonja West (Georgia), Mark Tushnet (Harvard), RonNell Andersen Jones (BYU), David Anderson (Texas), and Christopher Schmidt (Chicago-Kent). I'm especially happy that the Law Review, in selecting these speakers, has recognized that the Sullivan decision is more than one thing: it's a speech case, to be sure, and an important press case, and an important case in comparative constitutional law (sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected), but it is also fundamentally a civil rights case, an aspect of the decision that is sometimes omitted. I'm glad in particular that students in and from Alabama, where the case began, have made an effort both to commemmorate this important decision and to spotlight its crucial civil rights aspects. I'm looking forward to a great day and want to praise the students who put this together. If you happen to be down the road enjoying a late breakfast at Rama Jama's or an early lunch at Dreamland, y'all come.
This being a blog, I will also link to a recent piece of mine on institutional actors in New York Times v. Sullivan, which doubtless is flawed but attempts to (1) think about the press, the civil rights movement, and the courts as institutional actors in the case; (2) ask questions about the long-term status of Sullivan as a canonical constitutional case; and (3) offer a puckish point in a footnote about Professor McConnell's excellent recent discussion of Citizens United as a Press Clause case. That point links my interest in law and religion to my interest in freedom of the press, and I believe Prof. West's paper today will take up a similar topic. Given similar concerns about identifying "religion," "churches," and "the press," it may be that church-state scholars can and will have something to add to thinking and writing about the Press Clause.
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