First Five Newsletter: May 9, 2019

First Five

The prosecution of Julian Assange, pregnancy and the First Amendment, a recent ABA survey and more.

First Five Column

Gene Policinski analyzes the recently released Survey of Civic Literacy, conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA). Read the column. A plain text version for publishers is available here.

First Five Podcast

America is polarized like never before. Varying political views, backgrounds and perspectives deepen the divide, begging the question: how do we overcome difference? AllSides is a technology media company that strives to free people from their filter bubbles by providing news stories that cover the same issues, but from different ideological perspectives. The company enables people to talk to “the other side” due to its philosophy that change generally happens through personal connection, not just purely through information. We spoke with Allsides founder and CEO, John Gable, to learn more.


Missouri Governor Mike Parson has been challenged on his assertion that the First Amendment requires him to redact information about the identities of people wanting to conduct business or lobby with the office of the Governor. The Governor’s office has claimed that revealing these identities would have a chilling effect on speech, as people who wanted to influence or do business with the office would be less willing to do so if their identities were known. Missouri’s attorney general has been asked to consider whether using the First Amendment to deny access to information under the state’s Sunshine Law is legal.


Last week, Facebook banned several right-wing extremists, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Nehlen, from its platforms. It also banned Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly made anti-Semitic statements. The bans have once again brought up accusations that Facebook discriminates against conservatives and have reignited the debate over whether Facebook is a publisher or a public square.


While Julian Assange was ordered extradited to the United States for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, prosecuting him under that same act may be difficult. As Tor Ekeland explains in Wired magazine, “Prosecuting Assange for a computer crime sidesteps the elephant in the room: this is the prosecution of a publisher of information of interest and importance to the public about our government. The First Amendment protects the act of publishing that information. Therefore, the act being prosecuted is inextricably linked to the act of obtaining this information because the charged crime is conspiracy to access the system with the information of public import.”


Helen Norton’s article in Fordham Law Review,“Pregnancy and the First Amendment,” discusses how the First Amendment applies to the government’s control over the information pregnant women receive.


Keith Whittington observes that with graduation season upon us, the “commencement speaker shuffle” has begun. While Whittington lists several speakers, from the political left as well as the right, who have already had their invitations rescinded due to student protests, he notes that tracking disinvitations doesn’t tell the whole story of free speech on college campuses. “Universities anticipate the demands for disinvitation,” Whittington writes. “They act accordingly by avoiding even extending invitations to speakers who might provoke protests from some students or faculty. As a consequence, we should pay attention to the invitations as well as the disinvitations.”

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