Since 1971, when the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the New York Times and furious debate over First Amendment rights ensued, free-speech cases have emerged in rapid succession. Floyd Abrams has been on the front lines of nearly every one of these major cases, which is also to say that, more than any other person, he has forged this country’s legal understanding of free speech. Litigating everything from national-security and prior-restraint issues to controversies concerning the law of libel and attempts by local officials to censor art, Abrams has worked devotedly to protect the First Amendment, the “crown jewel” of America’s Constitution.
This collection of Abrams’s writings gathers speeches, articles, debates, briefs, oral arguments, and testimony from his entire career. The writings illuminate topics of ongoing import: WikiLeaks, the correctness of the Citizens United case, journalist shield laws, and, not least, the responsibilities of the press. An exceptional writer and a brilliant thinker, Abrams offers a unique perspective on the First Amendment and the unparalleled rights it confers.
This book would not have been written but for an e-mail I received from one of the nation’s leading First Amendment scholars, Professor Ronald Collins. In the course of his drafting of Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams and the First Amendment (Carolina Academic Press, 2012), an analysis of my views about the First Amendment, Professor Collins left an e-mail on my computer. He had, he wrote, “a great idea.” I called him and learned the idea. It was that I should offer a book of my own, one that would contain a potpourri of my published and unpublished speeches, public debates, testimony, reviews, letters, and the like about the First Amendment. Readers will decide for themselves whether the idea was worth following up on, but I did so and this book is the result. I am most appreciative to Professor Collins not only for the concept of the book but for his continuing encouragement.
Many, although not all, of the materials in the book first appeared in somewhat different form in other publications, and I am grateful to them for permission to reprint them here. Newspapers include the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Law Journal. Law reviews include the Yale Law Journal Online, Flarvard Law Review, and Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy, and magazines include the Columbia Journalism Review, Nation, New York Review of Books, and Index on Censorship. I appreciate Richard Heffner, the creator and interrogator, par excellence, of the Open Mind, the nation’s longest-running and always intellectually enlightening televised interview program, for permission to publish transcripts of two of my appearances. I appreciate the willingness of the Media Institute to permit me to publish an article I published in their “Speaking Freely” series of views. And I would like to thank Cambridge University Press for permitting me to reprint portions of an essay I wrote that was published in The Content and Context of Hate Speech (Michael Here and Peter Molnar, eds., 2012).
I appreciate the work done by my research assistant Lindsey Davis. I thank Marcy Lovitch and Judy Rhodes for much of the typing, Caren Biberman and her staff in the library at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their research assistance, and my inestimable assistant Denise O’Neill for overseeing my life at Cahill and shielding me from much of the turmoil of day-to-day life. I thank Karen Gantz, my agent, for her dedicated efforts on my behalf and her unflagging encouragement to write this book.
None of this, of course, would have been possible without the sufferance of my partners and generations of associates at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP who have been subjected to these sometimes changing views over the last four decades or so. And nothing at all would have been possible without the counsel, support, and love of my wife, Efrat, my children, Dan and Ronnie, and their stunning brood, Dylan, Teddy, Finn, and Everett.