2009 Sullivan Lecture: Akhil Reed Amar

  • How America's Constitution Affirmed Freedom of Speech Even Before the First Amendment

    Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University 

    In this lecture, Professor Amar offered a new "proof" of Freedom of Speech as a constitutional right--a proof focusing not on the text of the First Amendment (or any other clause of the document); nor on the abstract structural logic of the Constitution as a whole; nor on Supreme Court case law; nor on purely pragmatic or philosophical considerations. Instead, Professor Amar invited the audience to "read" the Constitution not as a text, but as a deed--as an act of ordainment and establishment that took place in the late 1780s, in a process in which a remarkably robust freedom of speech prevailed both in favor of and in opposition to the plan proposed by the Philadelphia Convention. Robust, wide-open, uninhibited freedom of speech was inextricably intertwined with the very enactment of the Constitution itself. Leading Founders called attention to this remarkable fact during the Founding era itself, but modern scholarship on freedom of expression has tended to overlook this key point.

    About Professor Amar

    Amar is the author of America’s Constitution: A Biography (Random House 2005), which won the ABA Silver Gavel Award of 2006. His 1998 book, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale University Press), earned the ABA Certificate of Merit and the Yale University Press Governors Award. Amar is the co-editor of a leading constitutional law casebook, Processes of Constitutional Decision-making and is also the author of The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles (Yale Univ. Press, 1997). He joined the Yale law faculty in 1985, after clerking on the First Circuit for Judge Stephen Breyer. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2008 he received the DeVane Medal–Yale's highest award for teaching excellence. He has delivered endowed lectures at numerous colleges and universities and he has written widely on constitutional issues in both law journals and general-interest publications.