The Supreme Court and Libel

By Clifton O. Lawhorne | Go to book overview

PREFACE

The fewer and fewer restrictions that have evolved in the jurisprudence of libel in the United States have closely reflected the growth of what the First Amendment to the Constitution calls "freedom of speech, or of the press." Further, the constriction of libel and the resulting expansion in freedom of discussion can be traced, to a large extent, through the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. And it is the purpose of this book to do just that. Emphasis is placed on the last fifty years--on the decisions of the Court since 1931, when libel laws of the states first began to be curtailed by new interpretations of the Constitution. To provide perspective, however, a cursory treatment is given to the adoption of the First Amendment, the early formulation of the law of libel, and a number of old but important decisions of the Court.

While the book takes a chronological approach, in the interest of clarity, it nevertheless focuses on the law of libel as it is today. Seven of the nine chapters deal with the rapid-fire Supreme Court decisions that have radically changed the law of libel in the United States over the past fifteen years. The treatment is thorough, but brief, and explanation is punctuated in a number of instances with key passages from the actual Court decisions. The effort has been to place these decisions in a meaningful context, to provide a ready handbook for communicators, educators, and perhaps even lawyers.

The reader is cautioned, however, that the current status of the law is not and cannot be final. The law is not static. It changes, sometimes slowly and sometimes rather rapidly. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., observed in 1881, the law constantly adopts new principles from the experiences of life, from what is believed to

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