Justice Stephen Breyer, No Friend of the First Amendment

Here is Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, not really making a whole lot of sense as he discusses how he interprets the Constitution, on Fox News Sunday

If the text is clear, you follow the text. If the text isn’t clear, you have to work out what it means. And that requires context.
The freedom of speech. Do you know what it means? Basically. But you don’t know its entire content, and it doesn’t tell you itself. Those words, “the freedom of speech,” “Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Neither they, the founders, nor those words tell you how to apply it to the Internet.
This is a flawed example of whatever point Justice Breyer is trying to make, since there is nothing unclear about applying the principle of freedom of speech to the Internet. Written articles are speech, whether they are distributed on newsprint or via the Internet. Video and audio recordings are speech, whether they are transmitted over a broadcast network or over the Internet. And Congress is Congress, whether it is trying to regulate a newspaper, a television station, or the Internet. Ergo, Congress should pass no law abridging the freedom of speech on the Internet.
So on what basis does Judge Breyer believe that the rules for the Internet should be different from the rules for any other speech-transmission medium?

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Ted
Ted
14 years ago

This could easily be taken out of context. It just sounds like Breyer is reflecting on the changing technology of the country and how the founders could not have possibly foreseen the developments. The Judiciary has the responsibility of adapting with the nation. Breyer is a pragmatic justice. This Morse post jumps to a quick conclusion by a superficial analysis. Can you cite specific opinions by Breyer where his opinion is against speech?

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

Speech is speech, Ted and Justice Breyer. Are you saying it’s fine to say “George Bush stinks” in a newspaper but if you say it on a blog, it’s okay that they come and arrest you?

Ted
Ted
14 years ago

The Judiciary is a bit more complicated than the more political branches of our government and you are vastly over simplifying the entire process for dramatic emphasis. One cannot analyze the opinions and dissents of the Justices as completely analogous to votes in Congress. Let me preface further comments with the fact that I firmly believe your conclusion on Breyer is incorrect. I don’t think there are direct rulings on this issue, but in the terrorism cases he has proven to be concerned with individual liberites and rights–in particular Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. In which he ruled against the current methods of detainment. Now first lets get the entire amendment down: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibting the free exercise thereof; or abriding the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” All justices agree that the word “congress” applies to all the states through the 14th Amendment so it is universally applicable. Furthermore, the language of “free exercise” and “peaceably to assemble” imply the unstated freedom of association which is necessary for speech. The Judiciary draws some lines with fighting words and hate speech. However, political speech is UNIVERSALLY protected including the advocacy of government uphevals. This is a complex issue, and you cannot oversimlify. Justice Breyer is one of the more libertarian minded members of the Court. If you have specific language to prove otherwise then by all means present it. Finally, the wire-tapping of the Bush Administration might be limiting free speech. If your phone can be listened too, you might be cautious about what your saying. It suppresses speech. If anyone is acting against speech it is some of… Read more »

Ted
Ted
14 years ago

There is a misnomer in my last paragraph. It should read “this is a non-political branch.” I’m referencing how the court is more insulated from passion and is more delibrative.

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

Ted:
There is no over-simplification. Andrew raised the question of freedom of speech.
I support “individual liberties and rights”. But it is unclear why you are bringing these matters, along with detainment issues and the 14th Amendment, into this discussion. And while the Bush administration’s wire tapping program is certainly overreaching and probably illegal, it is a stretch to characterize it as a curb on free speech. More to the point, it does not pertain to the subject of the post, Justice Breyer, but seems like a convenient, take-a-whack-at-Bush non-sequitur.
Much of the constitution is simple and straightforward for a reason: so that no one can complicate our rights away. Andrew is correct to ask his concluding question.
I have one for you. If Justice Scalia or Dick Cheney had said what Justice Breyer said, would you have defended them also?

Ted
Ted
14 years ago

I’ve said nothing to contradict the fact that freedom of the speech should apply to all forms of media.
Wire-tapping has a chilling affect on freedom of speech. This is evident in UCLA vs. NSA.
I tend to agree with Scalia on detainment issues and will defend him if he is line with what I believe. His orignalist approach works for him from time to time.
My point earlier was that you can’t treat the judiciary as if it were congress.

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