Tuesday, July 5, 2011

People's Rights

With the holiday weekend over, it was time to get back into the swing of things and do what we were sent here for. Because we had more time to digest our reading material, I felt as if I knew the material better and was able to contribute more the discussions. Before our discussion, our instructor let us know about our field trip tomorrow to New York’s District Court. We will have the opportunity to watch a live criminal trial and observe the testimonies and perhaps the cross-examinations. This is a trip I cannot wait for!

Class was very interesting today, as we devoted our time to the first amendment, specifically free speech, and whether or not it should be limited in special circumstances. In one case, Brandenburg v. United States, Brandenburg a leader of the Klu Klux Klan, held a public meeting where he threatened the government that if they continued to suppress whites in America, he would act out against the government. He was then arrested and convicted in Ohio under the Syndicalism Act which made it illegal to “advocate “crime, sabotage, violence or . . . terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.” Brandenburg appealed stating that the act violated his right to freedom of speech as well as assembly. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brandenburg stating that speech can be prohibited if it is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and it is "likely to incite or produce such action." I find this case extremely interesting because it contradicts what the Court has ruled in the past. Prior to this case, the Court believed that if there was “clear and present danger” that some act of evil could be committed, the government had the right to take away one’s right to free speech. In Abrams v. United States, Justice Holmes was alone in believing that in addition to the “clear and present danger test”, it must be proven that there is imminent danger that some evil act will occur. And here we are years later, and the court used Holmes opinion to determine whether or not Brandenburg was protected by the first amendment. By stating that speech can be prohibited if it is “directed at or inciting or producing imminent lawless action” the Supreme Court officially changed their stance on free speech.

This was neat to learn because I had always been under the impression the precedents played a pivotal role in the Court’s verdict. I believed that was the reason why in each opinion there were always references to other cases of the same nature. I guess even the finest judges of the land are allowed to change the Court’s stance…for better or worse. Personally, I don't think the Supreme Court should have added the need for imminent danger in order to prohibit one's speech because it has already been decided in other cases that it is unnecessary. The Supreme Court should have cited the precedents and used the same guild lines for free speech.

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