- Undergraduate Essay Competition
The Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy is pleased to announce its seventh annual undergraduate essay competition. Each year, students are invited to submit essays on a timely question related to foundational freedoms and responsibilities in liberal democracies.
For 2024, we invite responses to the question:
Should citizens be required to pass the US citizenship test before they can vote?
Representative government requires an informed and active citizenry to operate effectively. Recent polls show, however, that a significant number of Americans cannot even name all three branches of the federal government. This dearth of civics knowledge is troubling, to say the least. Policymakers currently are offering multiple ways to improve civics awareness. Some of those efforts target greater civic training in K12 schools; others target civics training in universities. As policymakers generate ways to expand people’s civic awareness, should they also require that voters pass the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization test before they vote? If so, why? How often must they pass the test? If not, why not?
All UW-Madison undergraduate students are eligible to participate. Essays are approximately 1,000 words in length. Scholarship recipients are invited to the Disinvited Dinner, hosted by the Center.
Deadline: April 7, 2024
Submit Essay Here
“Is it time to abolish lifetime tenure for US Supreme Court justices? If so, what should replace lifetime tenure? If not, why not?”
Winners: Bryce Mitchell , Matt Wadhwa , Kylie Ruprecht
“Should the federal government be allowed to mandate vaccines?”
Winners: Renxi Li , Aaron Dorf , Zachary Orlowsky , Taryn Hanson
“Should patriotism be taught at UW Madison?”
Winners: Jacob Bernstein , Nils Peterson , Lucas Olsen , Cleo Rank , Tony Mattioli
“Should the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—which states that ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside’—be repealed or modified to restrict more precisely the definition of who may claim citizenship?”
Winners: Dana Coggio , Ben Johnson , August Schultz
“Are the goals of fostering freedom of speech on campus and of fostering a welcoming environment for all students incompatible?”
Winners: Joshua Gutzmann , Rebekah Cullum , Zawadi Carroll
“Should the United States make military or national service compulsory?”
Winners: Maxwell Ruzika , Dana Craig , Jonah Edelman , Ellen Stojak , Nicholas Carl
“Should social media platforms be permitted to censor controversial speech?”
Winners: Anitha Quintin , Lucas Olsen , Matthew Kass
“Should the U.S. Electoral College be abolished, reformed, or left to the states to determine?”
Winners: Ean Quick , Garrett McLaughlin , Joshua Gutzmann
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2022 Essay and Video Contest Prompt
The 2022 is now closed to entries. check back for information about the 2023 contest.
The Federal Judges Association and the Federal Bar Association invite students to consider the question: “In light of the First Amendment, what type of social media posts should schools be allowed to punish as cyberbullying?” Your essay submission or video submission should:
- State your proposed rule;
- Present your best argument in support of the rule;
- Discuss whether it matters where the speech is sent or received; and,
- Cite relevant sources, statutes, cases and/or historical events that support your position.
Should Schools Discipline Off Campus Student Speech?
“Speech” includes seeking, receiving and sending information and ideas through any media. “Cyberbullying” is harm inflicted by speech through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices. “Stalking” involves repeated and persistent unwanted communications and contacts such as telephone calls, letters or e-mails, among other conduct. The First Amendment provides, in part, “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”
The First Amendment does not prevent a school district from disciplining a student for giving a speech using obscene language at a school event. See Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser , 478 U.S. 675 (1986). School districts can control the content of a school newspaper. See Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988) . Conversely, the government cannot compel a student to make a political pledge that the student disagrees with such as the Pledge of Allegiance. See West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette , 319 U.S. 624, 627-29 (1943).
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent , 393 U.S. 503 (1969), students planned to wear black armbands at school as a silent protest against the Vietnam War. The principal warned students that they would be suspended if they wore the armbands to school because the protest might cause a disruption in the learning environment. Despite the warning, some students wore the armbands and were suspended. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court which held that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Further, school officials could not prohibit in class or out of class speech without a reasonable likelihood that the speech ”…materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.” The dissent noted that school officials, acting on a legitimate interest in school order, should have broad authority to maintain a productive learning environment.
In Mahanoy Area School District v B.L. , a student who failed to make the varsity cheerleading squad posted two images on Snapchat expressing her frustration with the school. She was off-campus when she posted the images but the school punished the student for the posts. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which held that schools normally cannot punish a student for off campus speech criticizing a school’s rules. However, cyberbullying or other forms of negative speech directed at an individual student may be different… “bullying and severe harassment are serious (and age-old) problems, but these concepts are not easy to define with the precision required for a regulation of speech.”
1791 : First Amendment ratified
1973 : First handheld mobile phone demonstrated by John F. Mitchell.
1977 : Home computers marketed
1981 : First portable computer developed
1992 : First text message sent from computer to cell phone reading “Merry Christmas”
1997 : First social media site, SixDegrees, allows users to upload profiles and contacts
2003 : Myspace founded and ushers in modern era of social media
2006 : Passing of Megan Meier; later led to first cyberbullying criminal indictment
2007 : Ordinance passed in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, prohibiting harassment utilizing electronic medium (Municipal Code §201.030)
2008 : H.B. 6123 introduced to amend Chapter 41, Title 18, U.S. Code with respect to cyberbullying
2010 : Instagram launches as a photo-sharing platform
- Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser , 478 U.S. 675 (1986)
- Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier , 484 U.S. 260 (1988)
- Mahanoy Area School District v B.L . , 594, U.S. (2021)
- Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District , 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
- West Virginia Board of Education v.Barnette , 319 U.S. 624, 627-29 (1943)
- Alison V. King, Constitutionality of Cyberbullying Laws: Keeping the Online Playground Safe for Both Teens and Free Speech , 63 Vanderbilt L.R. 845, 884 (2019). https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1425&context=vlr Accessed November 4, 2021.
- Carrie Specter, Can schools punish a student for a social media post? Stanford scholars discuss an imminent Supreme Court ruling , Stanford News, June 9, 2021. https://news.stanford.edu/2021/06/09/can-schools-punish-student-social-media-post/ Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Kisa Hagen, Supreme Court Sides With Cheerleader in First Amendment Social Media Case , U.S. News & World Report, June 23, 2021. https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2021-06-23/supreme-court-sides-with-cheerleader-in-first-amendment-social-media-case Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Andrew Chung, Cheerleader prevails at U.S. Supreme Court in free speech case , Reuters, June 23, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/us-supreme-court-hands-victory-cheerleader-free-speech-case-2021-06-23/ Accessed October 27, 2021.
- UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Bullying and Cyberbullying, https://violenceagainstchildren.un.org/content/bullying-and-cyberbullying-0 Accessed November 5, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.stopbullying.gov/resources/laws/federal Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Preventing Bullying , https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html Accessed October 27, 2021.
- Rebecca Roman, When Free Speech Isn’t Free: The Rising Costs of Hosting Controversial Speakers at Public Universities , 2020 University of Chicago Legal Forum 451, 475 (2020). https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1677&context=uclf
- PBS WHYY, “Why Do Kids Bully? | Spot on Science , “ https://kera.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/why-do-kids-bully-video/wviz-spot-on-science/ (video and transcript)
- Benjamin A. Holden, Tinker Meets the Cyberbully: A Federal Circuit Conflict Round-up and Proposed New Standard for Off-Campus Speech , 28 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 233 (2018). https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1690&context=iplj
- John O. Hayward, Anti-Cyber Bullying Statutes: Threat to Student Free Speech , 59 Clev. St. L. Rev. 85 (2011). https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/clevstlrev/vol59/iss1/5
- Megan Meier Cyberbullying Act, H.R. 6123, 110 th Cong. (2008). https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-bill/6123?s=1&r=42 Accessed November 5, 2021.
- Ordinance 1228, The Offenses of Harassment and Cyber-Harassment within the City of Darden Prairie, Missouri, November 21, 2007. https://cms9files.revize.com/dardenne//Permits-Applications-Forms/General/Cyber%20Harassment%20Ord.pdf Accessed November 5, 2021.
2022 fja-fba essay and video contest flyer, 2021 fba civics essay contest flyer.
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The UK Supreme Court writing competition is a great way for those with a keen interest in law and the UK justice system to get involved and put their skills of persuasion to the test.
Students in year 12 or 13 in England and Wales, S5 or S6 in Scotland and Year 13 or 14 in Northern Ireland are eligible to apply for this fantastic opportunity and the chance to meet a Supreme Court Justice.
Applications for the 2020 competition have been marked by our judicial assistants and the winners have been selected.
- Alice Mumford
- Yana Imykshenova
- Beatrice Munro
We received a whopping 84 entries this year and our judicial assistants were extremely impressed with the quality of the essays from students across the United Kingdom. Well done to all who entered.
If you are interested in applying for the 2021 writing competition, please keep up to date with the Supreme Court website for information.
If you have any questions, please email [email protected] .
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All sections, 2022 distinguished undergraduate essay competition.
Senior Fellow Russell Berman (center), chair and organizer of the Hoover Distinguished Undergraduate Essay Competition, with Hoover Institution director Condoleezza Rice and six of the Stanford students who were recognized.
Senior fellow and Stanford humanities professor Russell Berman presides over a ceremony in the Traitel Building’s welcoming pavilion, where seven Stanford students were recognized by the Hoover Institution for outstanding essays.
Hoover Institution director Condoleezza Rice speaks with students who were recognized at a ceremony of the Hoover Distinguished Undergraduate Essay Competition.
In her winning essay, Yuanlin Yu (’25) provides an analysis of the musical expression conveyed by composer Dimitri Shostakovich in his Fifth Symphony, created in Stalinist Russia.
Rahsaan McFarland II (’25) wrote his winning essay about African Americans’ experiences migrating from poor conditions of the Eastern and Southern United States to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they continued to face discrimination.
Lindsey Williams (’23) demonstrates in her winning essay how the framers of the US Constitution envisioned constraining the US Supreme Court and lower courts via “the political question doctrine,” which says that these judges shouldn’t hear cases that they find raise political issues more properly addressed by the legislative and executive branches.
Barbara Sanford (’23), in her essay that received honorable mention, explores the career of Petras Daužvardis, the consul of Lithuania in Chicago from 1937 until his death in 1971. The majority of Daužvardis’s diplomatic service in the United States occurred while his country was under Soviet occupation. Nevertheless, as Sanford observes, Daužvardis was a powerful voice for his nation’s sovereignty.
In his essay that received honorable mention, Pedro Carvalho (’23) explains how widespread credit card acceptance is harming small businesses. The competition between major credit card companies in convincing banks to issue their cards have resulted in increased swipe fees, which are ultimately refunded to these banks and absorbed by vendors.
In an essay that received honorable mention, Ryan Beyer (’25) describes the destructive impact of the Khmer Rouge on Cambodian society starting in the 1970s. Using source material from the Hoover Institution’s Library & Archives, he argues that American intervention in Cambodia in the early 1970s destabilized that country and led to the rise of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime under dictator Pol Pot.
The Harvard Law Review is composed of second- and third-year law students who are selected via a six-day writing competition at the end of each academic year. The Review strongly encourages all students to participate in the writing competition, which consists of two parts:
- Subcite: this portion, worth 50% of the competition score, requires students to perform a technical and substantive edit of an excerpt from an unpublished article
- Case Comment : this portion, also worth 50%, requires students to describe and analyze a recent case
The competition uses a closed universe of materials provided to all competition-takers; no additional outside research of any kind is allowed or required.
Based on the competition, fifty-four second-year students are invited to join the Review each year, including:
- Twenty selected based solely on competition scores
- Seven (one from each 1L section) selected based on an equally weighted combination of competition scores and first-year grades
- Three (from any section) selected based on an equally weighted combination of competition scores and first-year grades
- Twenty-four selected through an anonymous holistic review (see below for details)
The Review is committed to a diverse and inclusive membership and encourages all students to participate in the writing competition. Harvard Law School students who are interested in joining the Review must write the competition at the end of their first year, even if they plan to take time off during law school or are pursuing a joint degree and plan to spend time at another graduate school.
Timeline & Resources
The 2023 Competition will take place from Sunday, May 14 to Saturday, May 20 . Writing competition tips and Q&A sessions will be held April 6 and April 13.
Registration will open in April 2023. We expect to invite editors to join Volume 138 over the course of several days in late July. Orientation for new editors is scheduled for the week of July 23rd and will take place remotely. Editors are expected to be fully available during this time. In August, editors will have Law Review assignments, but these assignments can be completed simultaneously with other commitments (internships, events, travel, etc.).
For more information about the competition, the following resources are available:
- The 2023 Application and Information Packet . The application information packet is designed to provide some specific guidance about approaching the case comment and subcite portions of the competition. Please note that the sample competition submissions included in the packet are merely representative and are by no means definitive examples.
- Tips Session and Q&A. Video of our April 6, 2023 writing competition tips session as well as our April 13, 2023 subcite Q & A session are available on our YouTube channel. This questions and answers document summarizes the Q&A portion of the April 13 session.
- Factsheet: This document responds to common questions and concerns we have heard.
- Sample Schedules: This includes a variety of writing competition schedules used by current editors.
- FAQ on Accommodations . See below for more information on disabilities and accommodations.
Competition & Membership Policies
Applicants will have the opportunity to convey aspects of their identity which have led to the development of character qualities or unique abilities that can contribute to the Law Review, including but not limited to their racial or ethnic identity, disability status, gender identity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Applicants can do so by submitting an additional expository statement. Statements will be considered by the Selection Committee only after grading of the competition has been completed. Statements will remain anonymous and will not be evaluated for quality of writing or editing, nor will they be assigned a numerical score.
Applicants are welcome to draft their expository statements before the competition week begins, and the prompt for the 200-word statement is as follows:
“You are strongly encouraged to use the space below to submit a typed expository statement of no more than 200 words. This statement may identify and describe aspects of your identity which have impacted your development of certain character qualities or unique abilities that can serve as an asset to the Law Review and are not fully captured by the categories on the previous page, including, but not limited to, racial or ethnic identity, socioeconomic background, disability (physical, intellectual, cognitive/ neurological, psychiatric, sensory, developmental, or other), gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, country of origin or international status, religious identity or expression, undergraduate institution(s), age, academic or career trajectory prior to law school, military status, cultural background, or parental/caretaker status. Additionally or alternatively, you may use this statement to identify and describe areas of academic or scholarly interest, career goals, or any other element of your identity that you would bring to your work on the Law Review.
Statements will be considered only after grading of the subcite and case comment sections of the competition has been completed. Statements will not be evaluated for quality of writing or editing, nor will they be assigned a numerical score. No applicant will be penalized in any way for not submitting an optional statement, and all optional statements are completely confidential.”
Deferral & Leave
Harvard Law Review will invite students to join Vol. 138 in mid-July. Students invited to join Vol. 138 who are taking a full-year leave of absence from HLS will be allowed to defer their membership in Law Review for the year. They may then join the Law Review as members of Vol. 139 in fall 2024 and serve as editors for two years. Editors typically serve for two full academic years to ensure ample time for training, acclimation to their roles on the Review , and opportunities to make collective decisions about our work.
Students invited to join Vol. 138 who are taking a fall-semester leave of absence from HLS are encouraged to still join as editors with Vol. 138. If joining with Vol. 138, editors will be expected to complete Law Review work during the fall, even though they are on leave from HLS. They will then serve as editors for two years. Alternatively, students taking a one-semester leave may wait to join until fall of the following year (fall 2024); in that case, they will have no Law Review obligations during the 2023-2024 academic year and will participate as Law Review editors for a single year.
Prospective transfer students may take the competition at the same time as Harvard Law School 1Ls. Prospective transfer students are selected on the same anonymous grading basis as Harvard 1Ls and are eligible for 44 of the spots on the Review (in other words, all spots besides the 10 allotted to Harvard 1Ls for whom first-year grades play a role). Prospective transfer students may submit an anonymized, unofficial transcript when their 1L grades are released if they would like their grades to be considered in the Law Review ’s holistic review process. The Review ’s membership decisions do not affect the admissions decisions of Harvard Law School.
Recognizing that the competition schedule poses unique challenges to prospective transfer applicants, the Review also allows transfer students to take the competition at the end of their 2L year. However, no student may attempt the competition more than once, and this option is only available to transfer students who did not previously take the competition. Like prospective transfer students, rising third-year students may submit their grades, but they will not be eligible for the 10 slots that incorporate first-year grades.
Prospective 1L transfer students should email [email protected] for information about registering.
SJD students at Harvard Law School may serve as editors of the Law Review . To join, SJDs take the same writing competition as JD students and are eligible for 44 of the editorial positions (all spots besides those allotted to JD 1Ls for whom first-year grades play a role). SJDs should take the competition only if they are certain they have at least two years remaining in their program of study. Additionally, as with all candidates, SJDs are permitted to participate in the writing competition only once.
Disabilities & Accommodations
The Harvard Law Review is firmly committed to providing accommodations for students with disabilities and handles requests on a case-by-case basis. The Law Review is an independent entity and thus has its own accommodations system separate from Harvard Law School’s Dean of Students Office.
Accommodations requests can be submitted between Monday, March 13th and Friday, April 14th and will be processed on a rolling basis. Students are strongly encouraged to submit their accommodation requests as soon as possible even if they are not yet certain they will take the competition. Please see our answers to FAQ on accommodations to learn more about what documentation is needed.
The Law Review strives to keep information regarding disabilities and accommodations as confidential as possible. Nothing about your accommodations application or your receipt of accommodations will be part of the Competition entry that is considered in the selection process. All Competition grading is doubly anonymized. Jennifer Heath, a non-student HLR staff member manages the logistics related to our accommodations process, and accommodations recommendations to the Law Review are made by our testing consultant, Dr. Loring Brinckerhoff.
North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas students win top honors in NCSC’s 2022 Civics Education Essay Contest
Molly Justice National Center for State Courts 757.259.1564
North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas students win top honors in NCSC’s 2022 Civics Education Essay Contest
Williamsburg, Va. (April 28, 2022) – Students from North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas took top honors in the National Center for State Courts’ (NCSC) 2022 Civics Education Essay Contest.
In explaining which amendment in the U.S. Constitution has had the most impact in people’s lives, an overwhelming number of students cited the First Amendment – with the 13th Amendment as a popular choice among younger contestants.
“NCSC’s Civics Education Essay Contest is designed to encourage students to really think about the importance of our system of government and the framework on which it was founded,” said NCSC President Mary C. McQueen.
Students from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and 19 countries participated in this year’s contest. Essays were judged on creativity, accuracy, length and grammar. The nine winners will receive cash prizes totaling $3,000.
Essays were judged by a team of NCSC staff and a finalist panel including NCSC Board Chair and Rhode Island Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell and Mason Farr of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Civic Education Section and recipient of the 2021 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education.
The 2022 winners include:
High school (grades 9-12)
- First place: Santana Spearman, Providence Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina
- Second place: Sumayyah Abuelmaatti, Rancho Bernardo High School, San Diego, California
- Third place: Eshal Warsi, Cypress Woods High School, Cypress, Texas
Middle school (grades 6-8)
- First place: Kelsey Raddemann, Pilgrim Park Middle School, Brookfield, Wisconsin
- Second place: Anoushka Pandey, Bryn Mawr School, Baltimore, Maryland
- Third place: Myra Gupta, Alfred C. MacKinnon Middle School, Wharton, New Jersey
Elementary school (grades 3-5)
- First place: Sabina Perez, St. Mary’s Elementary School, Fredericksburg, Texas
- Second place: Isha Gupta, Daves Creek Elementary School, Cumming, Georgia
- Third place: Rio Duncan, Trinity Episcopal School, West Lake Hill, Texas
For the past nine years, NCSC has framed its essay contest question around the American Bar Association’s Law Day theme, which in 2022 is “ Toward a More Perfect Union: The Constitution in Times of Change. ”
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.
Read the winning entries here .
- Law Student Writing Competition
Each year, PMC challenges law students to examine an issue impacting Pennsylvania's judiciary and write an essay supporting their arguments and/or proposed solutions.
Sponsored by faegre drinker biddle & reath llp.
Topic: According to recent polling, The U.S. Supreme Court is facing unprecedented skepticism. Public approval of and trust in The Supreme Court has reached historic lows. What can be done to restore trust in the Court and confidence that its decisions are apolitical. How will its recently announced ethics code affect the situation?
Eligible Participants: 2L and 3L students at any Pennsylvania Law School, as well as Rutgers Camden & Newark
Format: 2,000 to 2,300 word argumentative essay
Judges: Members of PMC's Board of Advisors
Deadline: March 22, 2024
Submissions and Questions: [email protected] .
2023 - Anthony Jessel, University of Pittsburgh School of Law '23
2022 - Constance Hope Long, Rutgers Law School '22
2021 - Apratim Vidyarthi, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School '22
2020 - Jessica Rizzo, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School '21
2019 - Zane Podsobinski, Duquesne University School of Law '19
2017 - Christina Gallagher, Penn State Law '17
Education & Community Initiatives
- Civics Education Program
- Continuing Legal & Judicial Education
- PMC in the Community™: Shares, Watches & Listens
- The Media, The Courts & Counsel™
2022-2023 Essay Contest Awards Ceremony, CT Supreme Court, June 2023
L-R: Justice Steven D. Ecker, Justice Gregory T. D’Auria, Hon. Barry F. Armata, Runner-up Danielle Cabassa, Statewide Winner Benjamin Nolan, Statewide Winner Siddharth Krishnan, Attorney Justine Rakich-Kelly, CBF Interim Executive Director Steve Eppler-Epstein, and Justice Andrew J. McDonald (Photo credit: Tricia Rose, Tricia Rose Photography)
Welcome to the 2023-2024 Essay Contest!
The contest is open to all Connecticut students under the age of 21 who are enrolled in grades 9-12, or their equivalent, at an accredited high school, vocational-technical school or adult high school credit diploma program (collectively “schools”) located within the State of Connecticut (“Connecticut school”). The contest is also open to all Connecticut homeschooled students in grades equivalent to grades 9-12.
We are no longer accepting submissions for this year's contest - thank you to all the students who participated! Materials for the 2024-2025 contest will be available in October 2024.
Please be sure to review all of the contest rules, including those found at the submission link below. Students should be mindful of the contest topic, and should review the full fact pattern carefully; essays not responsive to the topic will be disqualified.
Winner: $2,000 (2) Runner-up: $1,000
- Essay Topic
" Battle of the Bytes: AI vs. Academic Integrity "* *title generated by ChatGPT Click here for a detailed description of this year's topic and fact pattern.
- Contest Rules
- Judging Criteria & Procedures
- Student & Parent Release Form
- Previous Winning Essays
Essay submissions are judged on content/originality, organization, use of resource materials, and writing. The Connecticut Bar Foundation and the James W. Cooper Fellows do not represent or endorse the accuracy or the reliability of any of the information, content, sources, or statements contained in any student essay contest entry in the Connecticut Bar Foundation James W. Cooper Fellows Quintin Johnstone Statewide High School Essay Contest.
About the Essay Contest
Now in its 24th year, the Essay Contest was started by the Foundation’s James W. Cooper Fellows in 2000. The purpose of the essay contest is to get young people in Connecticut thinking about and exploring legal issues relevant to them.
In 2011, the Essay Contest was named after Quintin Johnstone, who was a professor at Yale Law School before his death in 2014. Johnstone served as past president of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, participated in a variety of Fellows projects for many years, and was a longtime member of the Fellows Education and Program Committee, which helps to organize Fellows projects like the annual Essay Contest.
Last year's contest generated over 100 entries from across Connecticut. The Foundation thanks the student essayists, and the schools and teachers who supported them, for their participation.
We also wish to thank the Connecticut Supreme Court for their continued support of the Essay Contest, and for welcoming us back to the court on June 6, 2023, for our awards ceremony.
Finally, we want to thank the over 140 attorneys and judges from across the state who reviewed and scored the essays last year. Justices, judges, and attorneys who participated in the final round of judging for the 2022-2023 contest were: Justice Richard Palmer, Judge Alexandra DiPentima, Judge Ingrid Moll, Judge Maureen Dennis, and Attorney Robert Harris.
Click here to view a complete list of the 2022-2023 Essay Contest Judges
2023-2024 Essay Contest Committee
Justine C. Rakich-Kelly, chair
Hon. Claudia Baio Jeff Blumenthal Sheila Charmoy Matthew Cholewa Ann-Marie DeGraffenreidt Susan Freedman Gary Giaimo Emily Gianquinto Gary R. Gold Hon. Ernest Green, Jr. Sara Greene Gail Hardy Rob Harris Hon. Maureen Keegan Noah Kores Tamara Kagan Levine Bill Logue Ernest Mattei Yamuna Menon Colleen M. Murphy Sara Nadim Hon. Maureen Price-Boreland Linda Randell Hon. Angela Robinson Dan Schwartz Carolyn Signorelli Hon. Nada Sizemore (Ret.) Jack G. Steigelfest Hon. James Tancredi Hon. Cecil J. Thomas Hon. Erika Tindill Dave Vatti Gayle Wintjen
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Shay Dvoretzky, a partner in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom's Washington, D.C., office, is the head of the firm's Supreme Court and appellate litigation group. He represents clients in appellate matters in the U.S. Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals and state appellate courts. He can be reached at [email protected].
Emily Kennedy is firm counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom's Supreme Court and appellate litigation group in the firm's Washington, D.C., office. She can be reached at [email protected].
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- Student Legal Writing Competitions - February 2023
- November 10, 2022
The following are writing competitions to which law students may be eligible to submit their writings. For future writing competition deadlines and competitions by subject, see the Library’s Student Legal Writing Competitions Guide .
Trandafir Writing Competition Any contemporary international business or economic concern within the discipline of law. Deadline: March 17, 2023. Annual competition.
University of Pennsylvania Law Review Annual Public Interest Essay Competition "Submissions must focus on a specific legal issue within the realm of public interest law, including any issue relating to social justice or advancing the general welfare and good of the public. In addition, the author must include a brief grant proposal for $5,000 to support public interest work related to the essay topic. We encourage topics that are national in breadth or impact, rather than state-limited, but this is not required." Deadline: January 15, 2023. Annual competition.
The Richard D. Cudahy Writing Competition on Regulatory and Administrative Law "Submissions should be focused on American regulatory or administrative law, broadly construed." Deadline: Sunday February 12, 2023 at 11:59 PM (in your local time zone).
Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition "The American Constitution Society welcomes all papers furthering and promoting a progressive vision of the Constitution, law, and public policy." Deadline: February 12, 2023 at 11:59pm ET.
The Robert T. Matsui Annual Writing Competition Submissions should address a legal topic of importance to the Asian Pacific American community. Deadline: January 12, 2023 at 11:59pm (EST). Annual competition.
SIEL/JIEL/OUP Essay Prize "The SIEL/JIEL/OUP Prize is an essay prize, jointly established by the Society of International Economic Law, the Journal of International Economic Law, and Oxford University Press, to award the best essay submitted on any topic in the field of international economic law." Deadline: 19 February 2021.
Mendes Hershman Student Writing Contest The Mendes Hershman Student Writing Contest is a highly regarded legal writing competition that encourages and rewards law students for their outstanding writing on business law topics. Deadline: January 20, 2023, at 11:59 PM CST. Annual competition.
Epstein Becker Green Annual Health Law Writing Competition "Papers may address any traditional area of the law as applied to health care (e.g., antitrust, tax, corporate) or areas of law unique to health care (e.g., fraud and abuse, managed care, Medicare/Medicaid, clinical trials, telehealth/telemedicine). Entries ranked in the top 20 percent of all competition submissions may be considered for publication in the Annals of Health Law." Deadline: February 25, 2022
American Indian Law Review National Writing Competition "Papers will be accepted on any legal issue specifically concerning American Indians or other indigenous peoples." Deadline: February 28, 2022
National Law Review 2021-2022 Law Student Writing Competition "straightforward and practical, containing useful information of interest to legal and business professionals" Suggested Topics: - Election Law and Access to Voting - President Trump and current administration - Tax Issues - Immigration enforcement and policy - Federal Court issues: process of adding additional justices to the US Supreme Court/Federal Circuit - Employment Issues - Ban the Box Laws, Minimum Wage, Transgender Accommodations, Age/Sex Discrimination Deadline: 5:00 pm Central Standard Time by the last day of the month.
Willis R. Tribler Law Student Writing Competition Recent decision and/or trend in a specific practice area, as well as how that decision might impact Illinois attorneys. Deadline February 28, 2022.
Center for Legal & Court Technology Annual Artificial Intelligence Writing Competition "Innovative Legal Issues Likely to Arise from Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things" "We encourage students from diverse backgrounds to participate!" Deadline: December - February, annually
New York Intellectual Property Law Association Honorable William Conner Writing Competition "An entry must be directed to any of the following subject areas related to intellectual property, i.e., patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, unfair trade practices, antitrust, and data security/privacy issues. Deadline: January 12, 2023, Annual.
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The first amendment, significant supreme court cases in the 2022-2023 term.
June 30, 2023 | by Scott Bomboy
Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown ARGUED: 2/28/2023 These highly publicized cases involve the legality of the Biden administration’s student-debt relief program. Among the questions before the Court are if the respondents have the standing to challenge the program in court; if the Biden administration exceeded power granted to it by lawmakers; and if the Biden administration used the proper procedures to adopt the program. Podcast: Presidential Power, Standing, and Student Loan Forgiveness DECISION: 6/30/2023: In a 6-3 decision from Chief Justice John Roberts in the Nebraska case, the Court said the Secretary of Education lacked the authority under the HEROES Act "to rewrite that statute to the extent of canceling $430 billion of student loan principal." The other challenge was dismissed for lack of standing.
303 Creative LLC v. Elenis ARGUED: 12/5/2022 In this case, an artist declined to design a website for a same-sex wedding, stating it was against her religious beliefs. The Court is considering if a Colorado public-accommodation law violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause if it compels a website artist and designer to speak or stay silent. Podcast: Free Speech, Same-Sex Marriage, and Anti-Discrimination Laws DECISION: 6/30/2023: In a 6-3 decision from Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court held that the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.
Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina ARGUED: 10/31/2022 In these cases, the Court is reviewing its prior precedent, Grutter v. Bollinger, regarding the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education,and if institutions of higher education can still use race as a factor in their student admissions process. Podcast: The Future of Affirmative Action DECISION: 6/29/2023: A divided Supreme ruled that the use of affirmative action in admissions programs at two universities was unconstitutional. In the majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said the admissions programs could not be reconciled with the "guarantees of the [Constitution’s] Equal Protection Clause.” In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the decision "rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits."
Groff v. DeJoy ARGUED: 4/18/2023 In this case, the Court will decide what is an “undue hardship” for an employer under the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, after a postal worker declined to work on Sundays delivering Amazon packages due to his religious beliefs. DECISION: 6/29/2023: In a unanimous opinion , Justice Samuel Alito wrote that "Title VII requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business." The Court left the context-specific application of that clarified standard in this case to the lower courts to decide.
Counterman v. Colorado ARGUED: 4/19/2023 A case involving numerous messages sent to a Facebook user that were interpreted by their recipient as threatening, leading to the sender’s conviction under a Colorado state stalking law. The court is considering if the sender knew or understood the statements could be interpreted as “true threats” unprotected by the First Amendment, or if a test that a reasonable person would understand the statements as threatening was enough to remove the speaker’s First Amendment protections. Podcast: What are “True Threats” Under the First Amendment? DECISION: 6/27/2023: In a 7-2 decision, the Court's majority said the State must prove in true-threats cases that the defendant had some subjective understanding of his statements’ threatening nature, but the First Amendment requires no more demanding a showing than recklessness.
Moore v. Harper ARGUED: 12/7/2022 In this case, the Court is considering the ability of North Carolina state lawmakers to have final approval over their own redistricting map. The power to do so would be based on an “independent state legislature” theory that cites the U.S. Constitution’s Election Clause as granting exclusive powers to state lawmakers to regulate federal elections within states. Podcast: The Supreme Court Considers the Independent State Legislature Theory DECISION: 6/27/2023: In a 6-3 opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts , the Court's majority found that the Constitution's Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections.
United States v. Texas ARGUED: 11/29/2022 The Court is considering if certain states have standing to challenge the Biden administration’s revised immigration guidelines, and if the revised guidelines violate the Administrative Procedure Act. DECISION: 6/23/2023: In an 8-1 decision , the Court's majority said Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge the Biden administration's immigration-enforcement policy.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center. Arizona v. Navajo Nation ARGUED: 10/12/2022 The case centers on a dispute between the Navajo Nation and several states about water rights for the Colorado River. It involves the scope of the Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction over the river’s waters. DECISION: 6/22/2023: In a 5-4 decision , the Court said the 1868 treaty establishing the Navajo Reservation reserved necessary water to accomplish the purpose of the Navajo Reservation but did not require the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Tribe.
Jack Daniel's Properties v. VIP Products LLC ARGUED: 3/22/2023 This case involves the design and branding of a line of humorous dog chew toys that resemble familiar trademarks. The Court is considering if the trademark holder is protected by the Lanham Act or if the toys’ producer instead receives heightened First Amendment protection due to the humorous nature of the dog toys, among other factors. DECISION ON 6/8/2023: In a unanimous opinion , the Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s expansive view of the noncommercial use exclusion that a parody is always exempt from fair-use limits established by Congress. Merrill v. Milligan ARGUED: 10/4/2022 The justices will decide if Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan for its seven districts in the U.S. House of Representatives conflicts with the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, which bans racial discrimination in voting policies. DECISION ON 6/8/2023: In a 5-4 opinion from Chief Justice John Roberts , the Court affirmed the District Court’s determination that plaintiffs demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency ARGUED: 10/3/2022 In this case, the Court is considering the proper test for determining if wetlands are “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate wetlands in general. DECISION ON 5/25/2023: The justices decided the EPA lacked the ability to regulate the petitioners' property. A majority held the legal definition of wetlands is now limited to areas with a continuous surface connection to other waters. Four justices disagreed with the new definition.
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith ARGUED: 10/12/2022 This case involves a copyright dispute about the use of a photograph taken in 1981 of the musician Prince used in a later series of prints and illustrations created by the artist Andy Warhol without the photographer’s consent. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts argued the fair-use doctrine permitted such derivative works. DECISION: 5/18/2023: In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that the foundation did not have a fair-use defense to license a derivative version of the photograph for commercial purposes.
Gonzalez v. Google LLC and Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh ARGUED: 2/21/2023, 2/22/2023 In Gonzalez v. Google , the Court considered if the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 allows lawsuits against internet services when algorithmic programs recommend a third party’s content to likely users, or if they can be sued only when engaging in traditional, manual editorial functions. In Twitter v. Taamneh , the Court took on a similar question about the liability of widely available internet services such as Google’s YouTube service, Facebook, and Twitter under Section 2333 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, and if these services can be sued based on the level of activity undertaken by them to detect their use by foreign terrorists such as ISIS. DECISION ON 5/18/2023: Writing for a unanimous court ruled in Twitter v. Taamneh, Justice Clarence Thomas said that “the plaintiffs’ allegations are insufficient to establish that these defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack.” After the Twitter decision, the court remanded the Gonzalez v. Google case back to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration. Podcast: Google, Twitter, Section 230 and the Future of the Internet
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NLSIU | 26th Annual H.M. Seervai Essay Competition in Constitutional Law, 2022
Reported by Nidhi Agarwal
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National Law School of India University, Bangalore invites entries for the 26 th Annual H.M. Seervai Essay Competition in Constitutional Law. Participants in this pan-India essay competition stand a chance to win the prestigious H.M. Seervai Gold Medal from NLSIU.
About the Competition:
In 1997, Senior Advocate Navroz Seervai instituted a Gold Medal in the name of the distinguished jurist, the late H.M. Seervai, for the best original essay written on the themes specified in Indian Constitutional Law. Over the years, this essay writing competition has become a prestigious event for law students all over India. The significant rise every year in the number of contributions from the student community shows their mark of respect and tribute to one of the greatest legal luminaries of our country, Hormasji Maneckji Seervai.
In 2021, the gold medal was awarded to Aachman Shekar, NALSAR University of Law for his essay on ‘The 50% Reservation Ceiling: Protecting or Hindering Equality?’ Read the winning essay here .
Topic for 2022:
How should the Supreme Court of India reshape the law of arrest and bail?
Students currently enrolled in an LL.B. / B.A., LL.B. / BBA, LL.B./B.Com., LL.B. regular mode programme in any recognised Law School / College / University in India may make a submission.
- Each entry should be an original, unpublished, single-authored essay in English.
- Every essay must clear anti-plagiarism checks.
- Entries should be formatted in Times New Roman, size 12 font, double-spaced on an A4 sheet, & carefully referenced using the OSCOLA citation style.
- Word limit: 7,000-10,000 words (inclusive of footnotes).
Submission Deadline extended to: Midnight, August 28, 2022.
To submit your essay, click here .
The University reserves the right to conduct interviews with selected candidates.
For any queries, please write to [email protected]
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Supreme Court Seems Open to Tech Companies’ Challenge to Social Media Laws
Social media companies argue that laws in Florida and Texas, prompted by conservative complaints about censorship, violate the First Amendment. The court’s decision could fundamentally alter the nature of speech on the internet.
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Here are six takeaways from the arguments.
The Supreme Court heard arguments for nearly four hours on Monday on a pair of First Amendment cases challenging laws in Florida and Texas that seek to limit the ability of internet companies to moderate content on their platforms. Here are some takeaways:
The cases could shape the future of internet discourse.
As the public square has moved online in the 21st century and technology companies like Facebook, YouTube and X have grappled with objectionable content, new dilemmas have arisen over the scope and meaning of free speech.
Florida and Texas enacted laws limiting the ability of large internet companies to curate what appears on their platforms, in part in response to what some conservatives considered censorship of right-wing views by Silicon Valley in the name of combating hate speech and misinformation. One of the most notable examples: The decisions of some platforms to bar President Donald J. Trump after he repeatedly posted on social media to falsely claim that his loss in the 2020 election was the result of fraud, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
An association of technology companies called NetChoice sued, arguing that platforms have a right to moderate content on their sites — a practice that it said was crucial to keeping them attractive to users and advertisers. The coalition won preliminary injunctions blocking both states from enforcing the laws while broader First Amendment issues are litigated.
The court might send the cases back down.
Both liberal and conservative justices signaled that they would prefer to have a more developed record about how the law would operate, raising the possibility that the Supreme Court could return the case to lower courts for more fact finding.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a conservative, pointed out that there were no lists of which platforms were covered by the Florida statute or of all the functions those services perform. He raised the possibility of sending the case back down for more discussion at lower-court levels on issues like whether and how the law applies to other tech services, such as direct messages and email. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal, indicated that she was inclined to do the same.
Both sides claim the mantle of free speech.
Solicitors general for Florida and Texas defended their states’ laws and argued that big internet companies operating social media platforms that are essentially public forums should not be allowed to discriminate based on political views. They portrayed content moderation as censorship.
Paul Clement, a lawyer for NetChoice, argued that “censorship” was the wrong word when it is not the government acting and that the companies were instead exercising “editorial judgment.” He contended that it was unconstitutional under the First Amendment to compel the companies to publish views against their wills.
Is social media like a newspaper? A telephone?
The discussion repeatedly harked back to precedents involving older technologies as a starting point for how to think about the platforms. Henry Whitaker, the Florida solicitor general, argued that social media platforms should be seen as “common carriers” like phone companies because they transmit the communications of their subscribers — so they should not be permitted to discriminate among users based on their views. But Mr. Clement argued that they are like newspapers, citing a 1974 case that struck down a Florida law requiring papers to offer equal space to political candidates who wanted to respond to editorials or endorsements.
The sweep of the laws, especially Florida’s, is a complication.
Several justices expressed discomfort at the fact that the case arrived at the Supreme Court as a so-called facial challenge, meaning the plaintiffs said the law is unconstitutional in the abstract and should be struck down in its entirety. A different way of challenging a law is to say it is unconstitutional as applied to particular categories of activity, while otherwise leaving it in place.
Both liberal and conservative justices suggested that Florida’s law, which is more broadly written than the Texas law, would seem to have more wide-ranging applications that do not qualify as what is known as expressive conduct and therefore fall outside the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. For instance, they suggested the Florida law would also seem to regulate companies like Uber or Etsy that do not publish content.
A ruling could come later this spring.
Although the Supreme Court sometimes moves quickly, it is likely to take more time in this instance. The specific question before the justices is whether to lift preliminary injunctions by lower courts that have blocked Florida and Texas from enforcing their laws as the First Amendment challenges are litigated.
But the line between that procedural question and the merits is blurry: The standard for evaluating such an injunction includes assessing whether the party seeking it — here, the technology companies — is likely to prevail. As a result, what the Supreme Court says about the injunction could heavily influence the outcome of the overall litigation.
The arguments over the Texas law have concluded.
Discussing market power, Aaron Nielson, the Texas solicitor general, says that “there are a lot of competitors for Twitter or would-be competitors, including Threads from Meta, which is backed by one of the largest companies." They invested “massive amounts of money to break up the Twitter monopoly and they failed miserably,” Mr. Nielson said.
Justice Jackson gets at one of the trickiest issues: What are the platforms? Are they the public square or private communications companies — like telephone companies or newspapers? It shows how far we’ve come from the broadcast television era, which is getting largely skipped over today, when television networks were (and still are) regulated by the F.C.C., with rules for decency and children’s programming etc.
Justice Kavanaugh asks how the Texas law against viewpoint discrimination would apply to speech endorsing or promoting terrorism. Aaron Nielson, the Texas solicitor general, suggests that instead of saying “you can have anti-Al Qaeda but not the pro-Al Qaeda, if you just want to say ‘nobody is talking about Al Qaeda here,’ they can turn that off.”
There has been debate today about whether Texas makes it impossible for companies to leave the state. It gets at the complex questions that will confront the social media companies if these laws are upheld. It’s possible they could offer dedicated feeds in Texas and Florida, but some people say it is complicated for an internet service to reliably fence off a state.
For example, what happens if a user in a Florida border town is getting their mobile service through a cellular tower across the border in Georgia? A site might assume the user is located in Georgia.
The “Tide pod challenge” has come up several times as the sort of thing social media companies take down through their content moderation policies. For those who do not know, this was an internet meme in 2018 in which teenagers dared each other to eat the brightly colored detergent pods — an extremely risky thing to do.
Aaron Nielson, the Texas solicitor general, says that if Texas lacks the constitutional authority to regulate social media platforms, it would be “Lochner 2.0.” He is referring to the 1905 case Lochner v. New York, which struck down a state law prohibiting maximum working hours for bakers. During that era, a conservative Supreme Court repeatedly struck down laws attempting to regulate business, culminating in a judicial and political crisis during the Depression and New Deal when the court stopped standing in the way of such laws.
Nielson alludes to fears among some critics of the tech giants that the companies will be able to use the First Amendment to fend off a broad swath of regulation.
Nielson now begins to argue in defense of the Texas law. He opens by comparing social media to telegraphs, which were not allowed to discriminate in what they transmitted.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urges the court to narrowly rule on what she calls “a defect” in the Texas law, rather than a sweeping ruling on the First Amendment and how it relates to the internet and social media companies.
If there’s one thing you can take away from today’s arguments it’s that even after the quarter-century since the internet became a major force in American life, the U.S. legal and political structures still don’t quite know how to handle its thornier aspects – the world that came to be in the analog era of electronic media doesn’t have a unified legal theory or even quite the language with which to discuss it.
After Justice Alito voices concern about which case law the court should be analogizing to, Clement quickly responds: “This isn’t the first time you’re wrestling with the internet.” He argues the social media companies are more like a newspaper or a parade organizer than a common carrier.
“If YouTube were a newspaper, how much would it weigh?” Alito quips back.
Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of NetChoice, brings up The New York Times again, saying it would be a burden to require it to explain why it rejects someone’s wedding announcement when it takes only 10 percent of them. (I don’t know if that figure is real or just something he made up.) He is arguing that it is too burdensome to require social media platforms to provide a notice and explanation every time it blocks content; YouTube takes down a video or comment some billion times every quarter, he said.
Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of NetChoice, says a provision of the Texas law requiring neutrality and barring viewpoint discrimination would be a formula for making social media platforms unattractive to users and advertisers. If they allow content about suicide prevention and “pro-Semitic” content, they would have to also allow pro-suicide and antisemitic content. So were the law to be enforced, they would probably “eliminate certain areas” entirely.
It is worth reiterating the stakes of today’s arguments given the focus on the legal specifics. These platforms have billions of users globally, and the way they run their feeds has big implications for culture and politics. If they make changes because of the court’s ultimate ruling here, it could filter down to the lives of millions of Americans.
Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of NetChoice, a group challenging the Florida law, is back now to argue the other case, involving the Texas law.
The arguments in the Florida case have concluded.
A big issue in this case is that the plaintiffs have brought a “facial” rather than an “as applied” challenge to the Florida law. A facial challenge says the entire law is unconstitutional, whereas an as-applied challenge says it is unconstitutional to enforce it against a particular category of speech but leaves the law intact in other applications.
The justices’ concern that it could be legitimate for Florida to bar Uber from hypothetically kicking off users because it doesn’t like their political views suggests they think there could be constitutional applications of the law, meaning a facial challenge is inappropriate.
Justice Barrett asks Prelogar about the status of the algorithms applied by the platforms to boost or deprioritize content. There’s a big debate about whether using those algorithms makes the platforms complicit in harms that result from content they host. In cases last year, the court confronted similar questions and chose not to issue a ruling exposing the platforms to legal liability.
The justices keep calling the landmark newspaper case “Tor NEE yo.” As someone who covered the Miami teachers union chief Pat Tornillo early in my career, when I was the Miami Herald’s education beat reporter, I can attest that he pronounced his name “Tor NIL lo.”
We can add this to my pet peeve of the justices calling the solicitor general “General Prelogar” when the word general in this context is not akin to the military rank, but rather is a description of the scope of legal issues the job covers — that is, she oversees all types of criminal and civil appeals. The same goes for the attorney general, notwithstanding members of Congress’ habit of saying “General Garland” when he testifies.
Justice Sotomayor says she came in with Justice Alito’s inclination that what the court should do is remand the case for more discussion and development of the record at a lower level, but hints that she would affirm the preliminary injunction keeping the Florida law blocked in the interim.
Justice Elena Kagan suggests she may agree with the view that the Florida law is unconstitutional as applied to things like a Facebook feed but would be legitimate as applied to tech services that are not expressive products, like Uber — meaning the case should be sent back to be relitigated. So there are hints across the ideological spectrum that there may not be a landmark First Amendment ruling this term after all.
Justice Samuel Alito raises the possibility of remanding the case for more discussion at lower court levels to better develop the record on issues like whether and how the Florida law applies to other tech services, such as direct messages and email, with perhaps a new preliminary injunction.
Thomas asks what message social media platforms are sending. Prelogar says each has its own policy about what it finds objectionable but at its base, its content moderation policies embody a judgment that “this is material we think might be of interest to our users or that the users will find interesting and worthy of looking at.” She likens it to the Hurley case: a parade sponsor is signaling that a participant’s message is something worthy of looking at in its parade.
Elizabeth Prelogar, the Biden administration solicitor general, says the state laws are unconstitutional. Justice Thomas asks if the government were doing the same thing, would that be government speech? Prelogar says if the government created a platform it would be bound by the First Amendment which could limit its ability to moderate content, but private parties are not bound by it.
The Biden administration have been trying to thread a needle for the last few years. It has called for new regulations for the tech giants. But it has also, at other moments, weighed in when it thought certain regulations in the United States or abroad went too far.
Elizabeth Prelogar, the Biden administration solicitor general, is now arguing on behalf of the Justice Department.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson notes that the public square is now the internet. Even though the internet is run by private companies, why don’t the same concerns apply? Clement says only the government can censor and calling content moderation by a private actor “censorship” is a category error, and also you can always go to a different website or service to speak there instead.
Clement says that The New York Times is not 100 percent consistent in its editorial policy, but that if a law that said the company must be editorially consistent or that people could sue it for $100,0000 or the state could haul it into court, “I think that would be the most obvious First Amendment violation in the world.”
What does this case have to do Big Tech’s liability shield?
A common line of questioning in the arguments on Monday is focusing on a federal law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields the platforms from lawsuits over most user content. It also protects them from legal liability for how they choose to moderate that content.
Lawmakers have criticized that law for making it impossible to hold the platforms accountable for real-world harm that flows from posts they carry, including online drug sales and terrorist videos.
The cases at issue on Monday do not challenge that law head-on. But the protections under Section 230 loom over whether the court should uphold the Texas and Florida laws, which create new legal liability for the platforms if they take down certain content or ban certain accounts.
The tech groups argue that the language of Section 230 actually affirms that the online platforms have editorial discretion over their products, which is at the center of their arguments against the Texas and Florida laws.
But Justice Clarence Thomas pushed their lawyer, Paul Clement, about whether Section 230 conflicted with that argument because it assumed the platforms are neutral conduits for information. Mr. Clement disagreed with that assertion.
Last year, the Supreme Court considered two cases, directed at YouTube and Twitter, that sought to limit the reach of the Section 230 protections. The justices declined to hold the tech platforms legally liable for the content in question.
The justices have referenced their decision last term in 303 Creative , a case where the justices sided 6-3 with a Colorado web designer who argued she had a First Amendment right to refuse to design wedding websites for same-sex couples despite a state law that forbids discrimination against gay people. The majority said that the First Amendment protected the designer, Lorie Smith , from being compelled to express views she opposed.
The case they keep referencing is Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston. It was a 1995 ruling that a Massachusetts law could not force a private parade organizer to include a group whose message it did not like. Clement says social media platforms are like the private parade organizer, and that if the City of Boston had been the parade organizer, the case might have come out the other way.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is worried that there could be some applications in which the law could be constitutional, like restrictions on when a tech company could discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in other services like private direct messages and email. Clement says the statute is so “shot through” with content-based provisions that it’s “enough to take out the whole law.”
Justice Samuel Alito asks if content moderation is a euphemism for censorship. Clement says if the government does it, it’s censorship. If a private party does it, it’s editorial discretion.
Justice Clarence Thomas signals skepticism that deplatforming users is expressive conduct by the social media companies. Clement says they are curating the content on their forums to keep off material that violates their terms of service, citing material that glorifies terrorism or suicide. This is an exercise of editorial discretion to make it less offensive for users or advertisers.
Justice Neil Gorsuch asks whether tech companies like Gmail can delete emails and private direct messages on issues like race, politics and religion that the companies don’t agree with. Clement says that would have to be adjudicated based on how the equal protection clause applied but “this case involves editorial decisions at its heart.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asks whether Uber could discriminate on the basis of viewpoint for whom its drivers pick up. Clement says that it could apply on comments on the driver, not on whether a driver would pick up a customer.
Justice Elena Kagan seems skeptical of Clement’s argument that the fact the laws regulate only larger social media platforms is a First Amendment violation. Clement insists that under Supreme Court precedent, discriminating based on size is such a violation.
Justice Clarence Thomas gives a reminder of how recent the internet and social media are in the nation’s history. Since he joined the high court in 1991, Justice Thomas said he had been “fortunate or maybe unfortunate” enough to have been on the court for most of the development of the internet.
Clement says Congress, in enacting Section 230, wanted to encourage internet companies to act like publishers and exercise judgment by protecting them if they took down bad material rather than forcing them to publish everything on their websites to avoid liability. The issue is whether the social media companies are just passive conduits or are engaged in expressive conduct.
Social media platforms decide what does and doesn’t stay online.
Companies including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, Snap, YouTube and X have long policed themselves, setting their own rules for what users are allowed to say while the government has taken a hands-off approach.
In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that a law regulating indecent speech online was unconstitutional, differentiating the internet from mediums where the government regulates content. The government, for instance, enforces decency standards on broadcast television and radio.
For years, bad actors have flooded social media with misleading information , hate speech and harassment, prompting the companies to come up with new rules over the last decade that include forbidding false information about elections and the pandemic. Platforms have banned figures like the influencer Andrew Tate for violating their rules, including against hate speech.
But there has been a right-wing backlash to these measures, with some conservatives accusing the platforms of censoring their views — and even prompting Elon Musk to say he wanted to buy Twitter in 2022 to help ensure users’ freedom of speech.
Thanks to a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media platforms are not held liable for most content posted on their sites. So they face little legal pressure to remove problematic posts and users that violate their rules.
This is what’s at stake in Monday’s arguments.
Social media companies braced for Supreme Court arguments on Monday whose outcome could fundamentally alter the way they police their sites.
After Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barred President Donald J. Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, Florida made it illegal for technology companies to ban from their sites a candidate for office in the state. Texas later passed its own law prohibiting platforms from taking down political content.
Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to block the laws from taking effect. They argued that the companies have the right to make decisions about their own platforms under the First Amendment, much as a newspaper gets to decide what runs in its pages.
The Supreme Court’s decision in those cases — Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton — is a big test of the power of social media companies, potentially reshaping millions of social media feeds by giving the government influence over how and what stays online.
“What’s at stake is whether they can be forced to carry content they don’t want to,” said Daphne Keller, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the tech groups’ challenge to the Texas and Florida laws. “And, maybe more to the point, whether the government can force them to carry content they don’t want to.”
If the Supreme Court says the Texas and Florida laws are constitutional and they take effect, some legal experts speculate that the companies could create versions of their feeds specifically for those states. Still, such a ruling could usher in similar laws in other states, and it is technically complicated to accurately restrict access to a website based on location.
Critics of the laws say the feeds to the two states could include extremist content — from neo-Nazis, for example — that the platforms previously would have taken down for violating their standards. Or, the critics say, the platforms could ban discussion of anything remotely political by barring posts about many contentious issues.
Reporting from Washington
The Supreme Court seems open to free speech challenges to social media laws.
The Supreme Court seemed skeptical on Monday of laws in Florida and Texas that bar major social media companies from making editorial judgments about which messages to allow.
The laws were enacted in an effort to shield conservative voices on the sites, but a decision by the court, expected by June, will almost certainly be its most important statement on the scope of the First Amendment in the internet era, with broad political and economic implications.
A ruling that tech platforms have no editorial discretion to decide which posts to allow would expose users to a greater variety of viewpoints but almost certainly amplify the ugliest aspects of the digital age, including hate speech and disinformation.
Though a ruling in favor of big platforms like Facebook and YouTube appeared likely, the court also seemed poised to return the cases to the lower courts to answer questions about how the laws apply to sites that do not seem to moderate their users’ speech in the same way, like Gmail, Venmo, Uber and Etsy.
The justices, over almost four hours of arguments, differed about whether the laws, which have been blocked for now, should go into effect in the meantime. But a majority seemed inclined to keep them on hold while the litigation moves forward. Several justices said that the states violated the First Amendment by telling a handful of major platforms that they could not moderate their users’ posts, drawing distinctions between government censorship prohibited by the First Amendment and actions by private companies to determine what speech to include on their sites.
“I have a problem with laws that are so broad that they stifle speech just on their face,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh read a sentence from a 1976 campaign finance decision that has long been a touchstone for him. “The concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment,” he said, indicating that he rejected the states’ argument that they may regulate the fairness of public debate in private settings.
“I wonder,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “since we’re talking about the First Amendment, whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what, you know, we have called the modern public square.”
Henry C. Whitaker, Florida’s solicitor general, responded that “the state has an interest, a First Amendment interest, in promoting and ensuring the free dissemination of ideas.”
Justice Elena Kagan said the major platforms had good reasons to reject posts inciting insurrection, endangering public health and spreading hate speech. “Why isn’t that a First Amendment judgment?” she asked.
The court’s three most conservative members — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — seemed sympathetic to the state laws. All three said phrases like “content moderation” were euphemisms for censorship.
When the discussion turned to less prominent sites, the justices across the ideological spectrum were troubled by the lack of information about them in the record before the court. Several indicated that they might analyze the First Amendment question differently depending on the platform.
Justice Kagan asked whether states could tell services like Venmo, Dropbox and Uber that they may not discriminate on the basis of their users’ viewpoints.
“Wouldn’t that be all right?” she asked Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for the challengers.
Mr. Clement said no, responding that all of those services “are still in the expressive business,” meaning that speech is part of their core activities in ways not true of, say, a gas station or ice cream stand.
Other justices asked about email and messaging services.
“Does Gmail have a First Amendment right to delete, let’s say, Tucker Carlson’s or Rachel Maddow’s Gmail accounts if they don’t agree with his or her viewpoints?” Justice Alito asked Mr. Clement.
Mr. Clement responded that the service “might be able to do that,” adding that such questions had not been the focus of the litigation.
He added that forbidding the platforms to make distinctions based on viewpoint would destroy their businesses.
“If you have to be viewpoint-neutral,” he said, “that means that if you have materials that are involved in suicide prevention, you also have to have materials that advocate suicide promotion. Or, if you have materials on your site that are pro-Semitic, then you have to let on materials onto your site that are antisemitic. And that is a formula for making these websites very unpopular to both users and advertisers.”
The laws’ supporters said they were an attempt to combat what they called Silicon Valley censorship, through which major social media companies had deleted posts expressing conservative views. The laws were prompted in part by the decisions of some platforms to bar President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
The laws, from Florida and Texas, differ in their details. Florida’s prevents the platforms from permanently barring candidates for political office in the state, while Texas’ prohibits the platforms from removing any content based on a user’s viewpoint.
“To generalize just a bit,” Judge Andrew S. Oldham wrote in a decision upholding the Texas law , the Florida law “prohibits all censorship of some speakers,” while the one from Texas “prohibits some censorship of all speakers” when based on the views they express.
The two trade associations challenging the state laws — NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — said that the actions Judge Oldham called censorship were editorial choices protected by the First Amendment, which generally prohibits government restrictions on speech based on content and viewpoint.
The groups said that social media companies were entitled to the same constitutional protections enjoyed by newspapers, which are generally free to publish what they like without government interference.
Justice Kavanaugh appeared to embrace that position, asking Mr. Whitaker, the lawyer representing Florida, whether states could tell publishing houses, printing presses, movie theaters, bookstores and newsstands what to feature.
Mr. Whitaker said that newspapers and bookstores are engaged in “inherently expressive conduct,” while “our whole point is that these social media platforms are not like those.”
He said that, indeed, the platforms were common carriers required to transmit everyone’s messages and that the Florida law protected free speech by ensuring that users have access to many points of view.
Several justices said it was hard to reconcile the platforms’ arguments on Monday with what they had said last year in cases concerning Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from liability for what their users post.
In those cases, Justice Thomas said, the platforms maintained that they were merely conduits for others’ speech. “Now you’re saying that you are engaged in editorial discretion and expressive conduct,” he told Mr. Clement. “Doesn’t that seem to undermine your Section 230 arguments?”
Mr. Clement responded that a key part of the provision was meant to protect platforms from liability for making editorial judgments
Federal appeals courts reached conflicting conclusions in 2022 about the constitutionality of the two laws.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit largely upheld a preliminary injunction blocking Florida’s law.
“Social media platforms exercise editorial judgment that is inherently expressive,” Judge Kevin C. Newsom wrote for the panel. “When platforms choose to remove users or posts, deprioritize content in viewers’ feeds or search results or sanction breaches of their community standards, they engage in First Amendment-protected activity.”
But a divided three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court’s order blocking the Texas law.
“We reject the platforms’ attempt to extract a freewheeling censorship right from the Constitution’s free speech guarantee,” Judge Oldham wrote for the majority. “The platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech.”
The Biden administration supported the social media companies in the two cases, Moody v. NetChoice , No. 22-277, and NetChoice v. Paxton , No. 22-555.
The Supreme Court blocked the Texas law in 2022 while the case moved forward by a 5-to-4 vote.
Justice Alito wrote that the issues were so novel and significant that the Supreme Court would have to consider them at some point. He added that he was skeptical of the argument that the social media companies have editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment the way newspapers and other traditional publishers do.
“It is not at all obvious,” he wrote, “how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.”
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the details of the social media laws enacted by two conservative states. Florida’s prevents the platforms from permanently barring candidates for political office in the state while Texas’ prohibits the platforms from removing any content based on a user’s viewpoint, not the reverse.
How we handle corrections
The Supreme Court is deciding how the First Amendment applies to social media.
The most important First Amendment cases of the internet era, to be heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, may turn on a single question: Do platforms like Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and X most closely resemble newspapers or shopping centers or phone companies?
The two cases arrive at the court garbed in politics, as they concern laws in Florida and Texas aimed at protecting conservative speech by forbidding leading social media sites from removing posts based on the views they express.
But the outsize question the cases present transcends ideology. It is whether tech platforms have free speech rights to make editorial judgments. Picking the apt analogy from the court’s precedents could decide the matter, but none of the available ones is a perfect fit.
If the platforms are like newspapers, they may publish what they want without government interference. If they are like private shopping centers open to the public, they may be required to let visitors say what they like. And if they are like phone companies, they must transmit everyone’s speech.
“It is not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in a 2022 dissent when one of the cases briefly reached the Supreme Court.
Supporters of the state laws say they foster free speech, giving the public access to all points of view. Opponents say the laws trample on the platforms’ own First Amendment rights and would turn them into cesspools of filth, hate and lies. One contrarian brief , from liberal professors, urged the justices to uphold the key provision of the Texas law despite the harm they said it would cause.
What is clear is that the court’s decision, expected by June, could transform the internet.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of these cases for free speech online,” said Scott Wilkens, a lawyer with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of neither side in the two cases, saying each had staked out an extreme position.
The cases concern laws enacted in 2021 in Florida and Texas aimed at prohibiting major platforms from removing posts expressing conservative views. They differed in their details but were both animated by frustration on the right, notably the decisions of some platforms to bar President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
In a statement issued when he signed the Florida bill, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said the law was meant to promote right-leaning viewpoints. “If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, also a Republican, said much the same thing when he signed his state’s bill. “It is now law,” he said, “that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media.”
The two trade groups that challenged the laws — NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — said the platforms had the same First Amendment rights as conventional news outlets.
“Just as Florida may not tell The New York Times what opinion pieces to publish or Fox News what interviews to air,” the groups told the justices , “it may not tell Facebook and YouTube what content to disseminate. When it comes to disseminating speech, decisions about what messages to include and exclude are for private parties — not the government — to make.”
The states took the opposite position. The Texas law, Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, wrote in a brief , “just enables voluntary communication on the world’s largest telecommunications platforms between speakers who want to speak and listeners who want to listen, treating the platforms like telegraph or telephone companies.”
The two laws met different fates in the lower courts.
In the Texas case, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a lower court’s order blocking the state’s law.
“We reject the platforms’ attempt to extract a freewheeling censorship right from the Constitution’s free speech guarantee,” Judge Andrew S. Oldham wrote for the majority. “The platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech.”
In the Florida case, the 11th Circuit largely upheld a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s law.
“Social media platforms exercise editorial judgment that is inherently expressive,” Judge Kevin C. Newsom wrote for the panel. “When platforms choose to remove users or posts, deprioritize content in viewers’ feeds or search results, or sanction breaches of their community standards, they engage in First Amendment-protected activity.”
Forcing social media companies to transmit essentially all messages, their representatives told the justices , “would compel platforms to disseminate all sorts of objectionable viewpoints — such as Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is warranted, neo-Nazi or K.K.K. screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders.”
Supporting briefs mostly divided along the predictable lines. But there was one notable exception. To the surprise of many, some prominent liberal professors filed a brief urging the justices to uphold a key provision of the Texas law.
“There are serious, legitimate public policy concerns with the law at issue in this case,” wrote the professors, including Lawrence Lessig of Harvard, Tim Wu of Columbia and Zephyr Teachout of Fordham. “They could lead to many forms of amplified hateful speech and harmful content.”
But they added that “bad laws can make bad precedent” and urged the justices to reject the platforms’ plea to be treated as news outlets.
“To put a fine point on it: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are not newspapers,” the professors wrote. “They are not space-limited publications dependent on editorial discretion in choosing what topics or issues to highlight. Rather, they are platforms for widespread public expression and discourse. They are their own beast, but they are far closer to a public shopping center or a railroad than to The Manchester Union Leader.”
In an interview, Professor Teachout linked the Texas case to the Citizens United decision , which struck down a campaign finance law regulating corporate spending on First Amendment grounds.
“This case threatens to be another expansion of corporate speech rights,” she said. “It may end up in fact being a Trojan horse, because the sponsors of the legislation are so distasteful. We should be really wary of expanding corporate speech rights just because we don’t like particular laws.”
Other professors, including Richard L. Hasen of the University of California, Los Angeles, warned the justices in a brief supporting the challengers that prohibiting the platforms from deleting political posts could have grave consequences.
“Florida’s and Texas’ social media laws, if allowed to stand,” the brief said, “would thwart the ability of platforms to moderate social media posts that risk undermining U.S. democracy and fomenting violence.”
The justices will consult two key precedents in trying to determine where to draw the constitutional line in the cases to be argued Monday, Moody v. NetChoice , No. 22-277, and NetChoice v. Paxton , No. 22-555.
One of them, Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins from 1980, concerned a sprawling private shopping center in Campbell, Calif., whose 21 acres included 65 shops, 10 restaurants and a movie theater. It was open to the public but did not permit, as Justice William H. Rehnquist put it in his opinion for the court, “any publicly expressive activity, including the circulation of petitions, that is not directly related to its commercial purposes.”
That policy was challenged by high school students who opposed a U.N. resolution against Zionism and were stopped from handing out pamphlets and seeking signatures for a petition.
Justice Rehnquist, who would be elevated to chief justice in 1986, wrote that state constitutional provisions requiring the shopping center to allow people to engage in expressive activities on its property did not violate the center’s First Amendment rights.
In the second case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo , the Supreme Court in 1974 struck down a Florida law that would have allowed politicians a “right to reply” to newspaper articles critical of them.
The case was brought by Pat L. Tornillo, who was unhappy about colorful editorials in The Miami Herald opposing his candidacy for the Florida House of Representatives. The newspaper said Mr. Tornillo, a labor union official, had engaged in “shakedown statesmanship.”
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, writing for a unanimous court in striking down the law, said the nation was in the middle of “vast changes.”
“In the past half century,” he wrote, “a communications revolution has seen the introduction of radio and television into our lives, the promise of a global community through the use of communications satellites and the specter of a ‘wired’ nation.”
But Chief Justice Burger concluded that “the vast accumulations of unreviewable power in the modern media empire” did not permit the government to usurp the role of editors in deciding what ought to be published.
“A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal,” he wrote, “but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution, and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.”