First Amendment Cynicism and Redemption

57 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2019 Last revised: 2 Oct 2019

See all articles by Erica Goldberg

Erica Goldberg

University of Dayton School of Law

Date Written: September 9, 2019


In this article, I propose a way out of the vicious cycle of “First Amendment cynicism.” I define this term as the disingenuous application or non-application of the First Amendment to further political ends unrelated to freedom of expression. The cycle is facilitated by either accurate or inaccurate perceptions of First Amendment cynicism by one’s political opponents.

As one example, the perception by those on the political left that the right is applying the First Amendment cynically – turning the First Amendment into the “New Lochner” – leads the left to lose faith in First Amendment principles. Some on the left then engage in First Amendment cynicism, not applying the First Amendment to those that harm their agenda. This approach is then observed by the right, and the cycle continues. Further, improper accusations of First Amendment cynicism, or what I term “second-order First Amendment cynicism” render this cycle ever more vicious.

To restore both the perception and the reality of a First Amendment that serves the entire political spectrum, I first demonstrate why the increasing accusations of First Amendment cynicism are overstated and ahistorical. I then argue that the First Amendment can be both nonpartisan – treating equally speech of all political stripes – and apolitical – leading to outcomes and social arrangements that favor no political ideology. The best way to ensure that free speech doctrine remains nonpartisan and apolitical is to favor a civil libertarian approach. However, courts should ensure that the First Amendment is egalitarian in cases where the government must intervene, such as cases involving speech on government land or cases involving the heckler’s veto. Finally, I propose ways for the Supreme Court to manage its docket and refine existing First Amendment doctrine so that the First Amendment serves those who most need its protections.

Keywords: First Amendment

Suggested Citation

Goldberg, Erica, First Amendment Cynicism and Redemption (September 9, 2019). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 4, 2020, 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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