You can find attacks on the First Amendment baked into most conversations about social dynamics, politics, business and even the boring concept of celebrity these days, but rarely have they been as clear as Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in McKee v. Cosby today. It’s an opinion that’s shared by the self-absorbed idiot in the Oval Office, and it’s part of a broader assault on the very fragile tradition of a free press — free speech! — enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that we’d tossed the Bill of Rights in the recycling bin a long time ago.
Thankfully, there’s a rich public record of this struggle that we can bring to bear against any revisionist history on the bench.
Read Thomas’s dissent here.
This is a very nuanced and easily distorted debate, I think, and it’s subject to even more violent social whims of thin-skinned identity politics than the Second Amendment thrashing you see on Facebook most days. Freedom of speech is a necessary prerequisite for a functioning democracy. It’s not scaffolding for an equal-time rule, and it’s not a form of “whataboutism,” and it’s certainly not a shield against an angry Facebook mob. It’s a right, in the classic sense of the term.
What Thomas is attacking is an articulated interpretation of defamation in America. It’s part of a larger history, one that — surprise! — is still able to mete out hard truths involving the willful liars in public and private office. Thomas and Trump and anyone like those two rotten apple cores should certainly be afraid. How we fight back is on us.