SPEAKING FREELY: Trials of the First Amendment

Floyd Abrams, Author . Viking $25.95 (306p) ISBN 978-0-670-03375-1

In 1971, a young lawyer made his first appearance before the Supreme Court, successfully defending the New York Times against the Nixon administration's attempt to block publication of the Pentagon Papers. With that case, the cause of free speech found a formidable advocate. Abrams recounts his role in several landmark cases as he became the legal icon of an era of unparalleled extension of First Amendment protections. Most illuminating are Abrams's detailed explanations of the legal and psychological tactics he has used before the Supreme Court. He also creates some vividly villainous portraits of his antagonists, most notably Rudolph Giuliani ("deeply contemptuous of the First Amendment"), who was sued by the Brooklyn Museum of Art over his attempts to cut its financing after a controversial exhibit. Abrams rarely steps back from his courtroom reconstructions to make a more comprehensive argument for his nearly absolutist reading of the First Amendment. Only in describing his fight against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law does Abrams reason more broadly, and his powerful argument makes a reader wish the whole book had been more expansive. Still, Abrams conveys the nuance of constitutional law, the grappling for incremental advances in precedent, the interplay between the needs of his clients and the larger cause of free speech, and the sheer intellectual pleasure of legal disputation. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/14/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
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