If anyone has seen his share of First Amendment friends and foes over the years, it’s Floyd Abrams, that iconic New York attorney whose name can hardly be uttered without the words “First Amendment” somewhere in the same sentence.
But, as Floyd pointed out in a new Speaking Freely opinion paper this week, the real problem facing the First Amendment is not outright opposition – everyone claims to “care about” this constitutional guarantee, after all. The problem lies with many of its “friends,” who invoke the First Amendment at their convenience to further their own agendas, without much regard for the underlying principle itself. And who then sit out First Amendment challenges that don’t suit their ideological taste.
Liberals and conservatives are equally guilty of being fair-weather friends, Floyd notes. “Liberals vigilantly seek to protect the rights of adults to receive not-quite-obscene materials on the Internet, but seem all but indifferent to UN-sponsored efforts to ban the supposed ‘defamation’ of Islam. Conservatives care deeply about such efforts to stifle speech, but offer little if any protection to American students when they mouth off outside of their schools.”
Floyd poses a telling question for each ideological camp: Would conservatives be so adamantly opposed to a return of the Fairness Doctrine if talk radio were leaning left? Will liberals get over their long-held belief that money is inherently corrupting of political speech, now that candidate Obama raised staggering amounts of cash (while refusing federal funding) to reach the White House?
The title of Floyd’s opinion paper says it all: “First Amendment Deserves More Than Fleeting Friends.” Liberals and conservatives alike, take heed – even if it hurts.