The First Amendment is an Absolute

Abstract: Students new to the study of First Amendment law often grapple with the complexity and ambiguity of its parameters, a sensation familiar to all who encounter legal analysis and scholarship for the first time. Legal scholars thrive upon nuance, parsing the meaning of a single word and arguing passionately about the historiography of legislative intent. Perhaps that is why Alexander Meiklejohn’s epic The First Amendment Is An Absolute 1 sticks with so many of us, year after year. For in a world mired in hyper-analysis, Meiklejohn’s clear-eyed, resolute statement of absolutist principles served as an antidote to so much of my own muddled thinking at the time, and continues to serve as an intellectual anchor when all the defense of free speech gets a bit tiresome. A return to the text, with its lucid prose and classic Meiklejohn terseness, is to travel back to a time when First Amendment principles were fresh and new, its contours only then coming into clear view. Absolutism today enjoys little to no scholarly or judicial support, relegated to the footnotes of yesterday.