“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
First Amendment Timeline: 21st Century
The U.S. Supreme rules in Bartnicki v. Vopper that a federal law prohibiting the publication of illegally intercepted wire communications violates the First Amendment rights of those who published the communications, though they were not the ones who intercepted them. The Court reasoned that application of the law to the defendants in this case “implicates the core provision of the First Amendment because it imposes sanctions on the publication of truthful information of public concern.”
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White that a provision prohibiting judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues violates the First Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Cleveland school-voucher program in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. Challengers to the program asserted that it amounted to government support of parochial schools, and thus violated the establishment clause. The Court majority emphasized that the program was neutral and gave direct aid to parents, not schools.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejects constitutional challenges (including one based on the First Amendment) to the Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the copyright protection term by 20 years. The Court reasoned in Eldred v. Ashcroft that copyright law already has built-in First Amendment protections in the fair-use doctrine and the expression-idea dichotomy principle (providing that copyright protects expressions, not ideas).
The U.S. Supreme rules in Virginia v. Black that a state law banning cross-burning largely passes constitutional muster. The Court reasons that many cross-burnings are so intimidating that they constitute true threats. The Court invalidates a part of the Virginia law that presumed that all cross-burnings were done with an intent to intimidate.
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Children’s Internet Protection Act in United States v. American Library Association, Inc. The law requires public libraries and public schools to install filtering software on computers to receive federal funding.
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the vast majority of the federal campaign-finance law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, against First Amendment challenge in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission.
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act. The Court reasons in Ashcroft v. ACLU II that “filtering software is an alternative that is less restrictive than COPA, and, in addition, likely more effective as a means of restricting children’s access to materials harmful to them.”
The U.S. Supreme Court rejects a First Amendment-based challenge to a government program that called for mandatory assessments from beef producers to fund generic advertising. The Court in Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association said the program constituted government speech and, thus, was immune from First Amendment scrutiny.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Cutter v. Wilkinson that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not violate the establishment clause in the prison context.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides two Ten Commandments cases, Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU of Kentucky. The Court upholds the placement of a monument in a Texas park in Van Orden but rejects the placement of a Ten Commandments plaque in a Kentucky courthouse. Justice Stephen Breyer is the key swing vote in both 5-4 decisions.
In Morse v. Frederick, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that principal Deborah Morse did not violate the First Amendment rights of high school student Joseph Frederick when she punished him for displaying a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner on a public street directly across from his school while the Winter Olympic Torch Relay passed through Juneau, Alaska. The Court creates a “drug speech” exception to the Court’s landmark student-speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
In Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that limitations on corporate spending in elections, including political ads or so-called “electioneering communications,” violate First Amendment political free-speech rights. Corporations may spend unlimited amounts to support a candidate although direct contributions to candidates by corporations are still prohibited.