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Experts Analyze Supreme Court Free Speech Rulings

The Supreme Court ruled to loosen restrictions on campaign ads and tighten limits on student speech Monday. Two law professors, Walter Dellinger and Richard Garnett, weigh in on what the rulings mean for the nation, and what they indicate about the justices' take on First Amendment rights.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What signals does the court send with today's decisions? For that, we turn to: Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general under President Clinton, and now a law professor at Duke University; and Richard Garnett, associate professor at Notre Dame Law School, where he teaches on First Amendment issues.

    Richard Garnett, to you, first, three decisions, three split decisions, 5-4. Is there a common thread here as it relates to the First Amendment? Are we learning something about this court and the First Amendment today?

  • RICHARD GARNETT, Notre Dame Law School:

    You know, one thread that seems to hold these cases together is that, in all three, you had an older decision that the courts have had the option of either rejecting or reversing entirely or trying to live with. And in several of the cases, you saw some of the justices on the conservative side saying, "Look, we should take this farther. The cases you're asking us to work with, they were wrongly decided. Let's scratch them and move on."

    But in all of these cases, the court decided not to do that. And instead you saw what I regard as relatively narrow, modest opinions, which stayed within the framework of earlier decided cases. So you might say that these three cases are consistent with a theme that some people have seen in the new chief justice's thinking and writing, namely, incrementalism.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is that what you're seeing, Walter Dellinger, incrementalism?

  • WALTER DELLINGER, Former Acting Solicitor General:

    Well, we saw a little bit of incrementalism today, Judy, but I think, when you look at the term as the whole, you're going to see that the court, while not saying that it's overruling cases, is effectively overruling cases and doing so on the basis of, in some cases, the absence of Justice O'Connor.

    I think the abortion cases from earlier in the term and, perhaps, in the school race cases that are probably coming down on Thursday, you're going to see a court that, whether it says it's overruling earlier cases, is doing so in fact.