Understanding The First Amendment


by The First Amendment

Hello. The First Amendment here. So many people are talking about me these days, including people in high office, that I thought it was time I spoke for myself. For my intro song as I walk on stage to speak for a minute or two, please play the Animals singing “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good – Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

I actually haven’t had a bad month. The movie The Post—which gives a shout out to The New York Times, as wellunderscores how I enable important, investigative journalism that plays a vital role in our democracy and that the persons you call “The Founders” envisioned when they created me. They were not always fans of the press too, you know. But nevertheless they ordained that Congress shall make no law abridging press freedom. The all-too-late downfall of gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was triggered by an investigative piece by the Indianapolis Star. Perhaps these examples will help serve to educate the citizenry of my continuing vitality and importance.

But there is a dangerous drumbeat that I can hear from my lofty perch as #1 among the amendments (#2 gets very jealous by the way), and it threatens the very free speech I was created to protect. There is a notion that is percolating that a person has a right to control his/her own narrative. Perhaps it is fueled by social media and the opportunity for each of you to have your own public platform, filled with as much self-adulatory content stretching the boundaries of reality as you can muster up – whether it be on match.com or LinkedIn. If someone writes something or expresses an opinion that is contrary to the story emanating from the pulpit you have created for yourself, you get all huffy. This has even happened from the highest office in the land, when the president of the United States demands that a publisher cease and desist from publication of a book that does not square with his own personal narrative. Kudos to you, Liz McNamara, for your letter in response reminding all of what I stand for – you get me.

Now, I know that my jurisdictional scope does not extend to Europe, but the growing “right to be forgotten” movement causes me some angst. It is the product of the same notion – that an individual should be able to control his/her own narrative, and that if you did something bad twenty years ago you have a right to erase it from the public or even private consciousness. But that’s not the way we roll over here on this side of the Atlantic. I should know. I’m the roller, and I don’t see anything in my DNA (even after checking the constitutional amendment section of ancestry.com) that suggests that the words “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech applies only to speech dealing with the very recent past.

So please, everyone, understand that you do not have the right to be your sole biographer and that others who may not be as enamored with you as you are with yourself are nevertheless entitled to speak about you. Thank you very much for listening today, especially my friends in the judicial branch. The same people who created me had a pretty good idea with that whole separation of powers thing, as was also brought out in “The Post.” And as I continue on my speaking tour, I hope my intro music does not shift to “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” because you would. Considerably.

The First Amendment was aided in the preparation of this piece by Bob Latham.


Meet Bob

Dallas partner Robert P. Latham has developed nationally recognized experience in the areas of media law and intellectual property litigation and chairs both practice areas at Jackson Walker. Bob’s trial practice also involves complex commercial disputes as well as unfair competition, securities, probate, employment, banking, real estate, telecommunications, energy, international, and class action matters. Bob is also a published author and columnist, and he has spoken nationally and internationally on matters relating to free speech, technology, intellectual property litigation, and sports. Bob has also been listed in The Best Lawyers in America under First Amendment Law and Litigation – First Amendment, among other categories. In addition to his practice at Jackson Walker, Bob serves on the International Board of ARTICLE 19 and the Governing Committee of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law. He is also a former president of the Defense Counsel Section of the Media Law Resource Center.