AUWCL’s Program on Law and Government Hosts Free Speech Celebration with Floyd Abrams

March 4, 2019

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Professor Steve Wermiel introducing First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams.

On Monday, March 4, American University Washington College of Law welcomed premier First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to campus for a “Free Speech Celebration.”  

The celebration marked 100 years of U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the free speech clause following the decision of Schenck v. U.S. on March 3, 1919.

Moderated by Supreme Court expert Professor Steve Wermiel, the Q&A event brought together over 80 members of the AUWCL community to hear insights from Abrams, who has been involved in First Amendment litigation at courts of all levels around the country for 50 years.  

“Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion – they’re preconditions in the sense of protecting the country against what so many other countries have seen occur,” Abrams said. “And we have seen, to some extent, in our own history that without free speech, without free expression, there simply isn’t any way to protect the public and the people against the government.”

Abrams went on to discuss a myriad of topics before taking questions from AUWCL students, including issues about freedom of speech on college campuses, First Amendment rights of corporations, and the current administration’s rhetoric that the media has become “the enemy of the people,” which Abrams called “dangerous.”  

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A number of AUWCL students and faculty attended the "Free Speech Celebration," featuring a Q&A with Floyd Abrams.

“It’s very disturbing, this constant thrust of attacks on the press. It’s had an impact, but more than that, it is threatening by its nature,” he said.

Abrams also spoke about understanding the balance of freedom of speech and the related social interests involved when dealing with First Amendment cases, especially when they involve discriminatory speech.

“When the clashes occur, we tend to move on free speech side, and to bear the burden and risk of the other side getting diminished protections,” Abrams said.

The “Free Speech Celebration” was presented by AUWCL’s Program on Law and Government.