Free Speech Consequentialism

70 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2015 Last revised: 29 Apr 2016

See all articles by Erica Goldberg

Erica Goldberg

University of Dayton School of Law

Date Written: August 17, 2015


Balancing the harms and benefits of speech — what I call “free speech consequentialism” — is pervasive and seemingly unavoidable. Under current doctrine, courts determine if speech can be regulated using various forms of free speech consequentialism, such as weighing whether a particular kind of speech causes harms that outweigh its benefits, or asking whether the government has especially strong reasons for regulating particular kinds of speech. Recent scholarship has increasingly argued for more free speech consequentialism. Scholars maintain that free speech jurisprudence does not properly account for the harms caused by speech, and that it should allow for more regulation of harmful kinds of speech. This article evaluates the various ways courts already employ free speech consequentialism. It then establishes and defends a principled basis for determining when speech’s harms greatly outweigh its virtues. I argue that courts should engage in free speech consequentialism sparingly, and should constrain themselves to considering only the harms caused by speech that can be analogized to harms caused by conduct. In this article, I develop a framework that recognizes the need to incorporate free speech consequentialism, and to constrain it, at various stages of First Amendment analysis, in connection with both tort and criminal law. I then apply this framework to timely and difficult speech issues, including campus hate speech, revenge porn, trigger warnings, and government speech — with the aim of rehabilitating core values of our First Amendment doctrine and practice.

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, Erica, Free Speech Consequentialism (August 17, 2015). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 116, 2016 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Erica Goldberg (Contact Author)

University of Dayton School of Law ( email )

115 W. Monument Ave #1004
Dayton, OH
United States

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