Radcliffe: The Collapse of the Civil Liberties Consensus? Reflections on the Future from the History of Free Speech


Thursday, May 4, 2017, 12:00pm


Knafel Center, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA


Lunch and discussion with Laura Weinrib

Thursday, May 4  | 12:00 PM

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

Knafel Center, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

Judicial enforcement of the Bill of Rights has long been a defining feature of American constitutional democracy. For almost eighty years, Americans across the political spectrum have trusted the courts to protect their civil liberties from suppressive state laws and overbearing officials.  Yet today, broad-based support for civil liberties is rapidly eroding. The Left laments the judiciary’s solicitude for business speech and the corresponding inability of either direct action or democratic politics to temper corporate influence. Meanwhile, the Right demands greater discretion in policing and national security and seeks to contain the power of a critical press. 

In this talk, Laura Weinrib will provide a historical perspective on the evolving contest over civil liberties. In the first half of the twentieth century, neither freedom of speech nor court-centered constitutionalism commanded broad-based consensus. Weinrib will explain how an unlikely coalition of radical labor activists and corporate lawyers redeployed the First Amendment to shield both labor activity and business interests from the intrusive reach of the state. On the new understanding, a powerful Bill of Rights protected conservatives as well as radicals, industry as well as labor.  Today, as the New Deal’s civil liberties settlement is on the verge of rupture, the terms of that forgotten bargain have important implications for the meaning and limits of constitutional rights.

Space is limited, so register as soon as possible at http://bit.ly/Weinrib_Lunch. We will be in touch to confirm whether you have a reserved seat.