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UI's Bezanson explores freedom of speech in new book

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa law professor Randall Bezanson explores the legal implications for the First Amendment of hate speech, political campaign contributions, modern technologies and other issues in a new book written for a general reading public.

"Speech Stories: How Free Can Speech Be?," published by New York University Press, is a collection of seven essays dealing with difficult freedom of speech cases that have been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past 30 years. Each case is described as a story, laying out the issue at hand, its history, the court's ruling and some of the case's implications.

In selecting the stories, Bezanson focuses on what he calls the "peripheries" of free speech, the instances where courts have had a difficult time grappling with the full implications of the First Amendment's admonition that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."

While the courts -- and most people -- understand the First Amendment's central role in protecting political liberty in a democracy, Bezanson says the peripheries of free speech are not so clear cut.

"What about speech that does not serve these self-governing and liberty purposes but, instead, serve other ends, such as efficient commercial markets?" Bezanson writes. "What about speech that serves self-governing or liberty ends but in peculiar ways (as with pornography), or only idiosyncratically (as with flag burning), or with other costs (as with racial insults)? ... What about speech that takes new and different forms, such as money (campaign contributions), or medium (cable TV), or words that occur inadvertently or mechanically (such as automated telemarketing)?"

"The most fundamental free speech questions lie [in the peripheries of speech]," he writes. "Most strikingly, the principles of free speech that apply to them are astoundingly uncertain."

In a review, Rod Smolla, professor at the Marshall-Whyte School of Law at the College of William and Mary, described the book as "A remarkably thoughtful and literate exploration of seven landmark cases that largely shape modern American notions of freedom of speech. The stories are filled with fresh material exposing the human side of these famous legal disputes, and with Bezanson's reflective insights about what freedom of speech should mean in our society."

Bezanson joined the UI law faculty in 1973 and was named full professor in 1979. From 1979 to 1988, he served as UI vice president for finance and university services. He was dean of the Washington and Lee University Law School for six years before returning to the UI in 1996.

His other books include "Taxes on Knowledge in America: Exactions on the Press From Colonial Times to the Present" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994). His 1987 book, "Libel Law and the Press," (co-written with UI journalism professors Gilbert Cranberg and John Soloski) won the National Research Award of the Society of Professional Journalists.