Threats and More Threats to the First Amendment

It surely must count as a feature of the polarized political times that people on different sides of the partisan spectrum perceive increasing threats to fundamental rights and interests coming from their political adversaries. This is certainly true for the First Amendment. Many conservatives, for example, believed that their First Amendment interests were threatened by the Obama Administration and voted for Donald Trump because they believed that their speech and religious freedoms would fare even worse under a Clinton presidency. They believed, as the book blurb below puts it, that “fundamental First Amendment norms and principles” were being threatened by the other side. In this new book, by contrast, law professor Timothy Zick makes exactly the opposite case: that First Amendment threats have escalated during the Trump Administration and as a consequence of President Trump himself. The book is The First Amendment in the Trump Era (Oxford University Press).

“Regardless of how the presidency of Donald J. Trump ultimately concludes, a significant part of its legacy will relate to the First Amendment. The president has publicly attacked the institutional press and individual reporters, calling them the “enemy of the people.” He has proposed that flag burners be jailed and denaturalized, blocked critics from his Twitter page, communicated hateful and derogatory ideas, and defended the speech of white nationalists. More than any other modern president, Trump has openly challenged fundamental First Amendment norms and principles relating to free speech and free press. These challenges have come at a time when the institutional press faces economic and other pressures that negatively affect their functions and legitimacy; political and other forms of polarization are on the rise; and protesters face diminished space and opportunities for exercising free speech rights. This book catalogues and analyzes the various First Amendment conflicts that have occurred during the Trump presidency. It places these conflicts in historical context–as part of our current digitized and polarized era but also as part of a broader narrative concerning attacks on free speech and the press. We must understand both what is familiar in terms of the First Amendment concerns of the present era, but also what is distinctive about these concerns. The Trump Era has once again reminded us of the need for a free and independent press, the need to protect robust and sometimes caustic criticism of public officials, and the importance of protest and dissent to effective self-government.”

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