The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Freedom of Speech and Press

Summary of the Freedoms of Speech and Press

Over the past two centuries our interpretation of the Speech and Press Clauses has both broadened and strengthened significantly. While prior restraint by government remains strictly prohibited in almost all circumstances, the same is true of government interference with speech after the speech has occurred. This is because, as Madison noted, prior and subsequent restraints upon speech have a “similar effect.” And although “libel” still exists as a legal concept, and can still be penalized in a civil lawsuit, it applies to a much narrower range of expression than it did during the Founding Era, and it is very hard to prove, especially when the speech at issue is of public concern. Laws like the Sedition Act have essentially disappeared; some may still be on the books, but their enforcement would almost certainly violate the 1st Amendment.