The Fight for Free Speech: Ten Cases that Define Our First Amendment Freedoms, by Ian Rosenberg

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ian Rosenberg, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When it comes to discussions surrounding free speech, Americans look to the First Amendment to their constitution to protect themselves. Ian Rosenberg explores the nuances and elasticity of this part of the US Constitution to show just how versatile it can be, as well as how it has been used and adjudicated over the last number of years. Free speech and expression is surely a hot button issue today, not only in America, and Rosenberg does a masterful job of presenting key legal arguments in lay terms, such that anyone can easily understand and process the topic, should they choose.

Ian Rosenberg has a legal background and has used some of the more recent goings-on in America to explore they hot button issue of free speech and how it came to be defined. He chose ten recent situations, from Madonna’s outburst that she would like to blow up the White House to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘taking a knee’ during the American anthem, as well as a woman offering President Trump a ‘friendly finger’ while jogging to the Complainer-in-Chief vowing to sue for libel when the late-night shows speak poorly about him. These are all highly intriguing issues and worth a deeper look.

Rosenberg does not only dissect the current issues and put them into context, but looks back in time to see what major legal battles occurred to permit (or limit) the various forms of free speech in America. Rosenberg effectively presents the full story of each case before delving into the legal battles that led to historic decisions that shape First Amendment use in America today. Some issues turned out I would have expected, while others were surely cloaked in historical context, such as US patriotism during the Second World War or Vietnam. In all ten instances, a thorough exploration of the legal and societal matters provides a wonderful narrative for those who may not be professionally or scholastically well-versed in all the minutiae.

Using twenty legal vignettes over ten chapters, Rosenberg tells of the various uses of the First Amendment, from its wide interpretation in some regards to strict interpretation in the highest American court. There were some highly humorous aspects, particularly when the ‘stuffy shirt’ Justices heard the case of a man protesting the Vietnam War with ‘Fuck the Draft’ on his jacket. What some would call the most basic right of a free and democratic country is not as black and white as it might seen. That being said, Rosenberg makes it easy to comprehend and keeps the reader engaged throughout. His extensive use of endnotes, while sometimes appearing overbearing, shows that he is determined to provide the most detailed information possible, relying on many outside sources. Yet, the writing is clear and easy to digest, making the book much more relatable for the lay person. There are countless revelations throughout and a handful of ‘aha’ moments that showed me that I am not as knowledgeable as I might have thought. This pleases me to no end, as I love to learn new things about topics that appeal to me.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for a well-paced book that stirs up the political, legal, and societal arguments around expression in all its forms. I will keep an eye out for more of your writing in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: