Partisans united against free speech

The Supreme Court this June expanded First Amendment protections to cover public employees who don’t want the state extracting union dues, voters who seek to wear political clothing or paraphernalia at the polls, and some businesses that chafe at being told by the government that they must display certain information. This has been, The Volokh Conspiracy’s Jonathan H. Adler concluded, “the most speech-protective Supreme Court in our nation’s history.”

The citizenry, meanwhile, was moving in the opposite direction. In a memo leaked in June, staffers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) agonized that the organization’s fabled commitment to the First Amendment might have a “harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed.” All summer long, rightists and leftists took turns trying to get their political opponents fired from their jobs and banished from social media platforms over speech deemed intolerable. Even on the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan warned that her conservative colleagues were “weaponizing the First Amendment.”