Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .
These are commonly called the Speech and Press Clauses of the 1st Amendment. Together, they protect what is often called “Freedom of Expression.”
Arguably, these are the most politically important provisions in the Bill of Rights because they are essential for the operation of a representative government. How could our government function without open discussion of public policy, the relative merits (and faults) of political candidates, or exposure of government corruption? It is no accident that James Madison’s initial wording of the 1st Amendment specified that the right to a free press “shall be inviolable” because it is “one of the great bulwarks of liberty.” Indeed, the press has been called the “Fourth Estate,” or the fourth branch of government, providing yet another check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Thomas Jefferson believed, “No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free, no one ever will.”