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Jud Campbell: The Emergence of Neutrality
Michael Ramsey

Jud Campbell (University of Richmond School of Law) has posted The Emergence of Neutrality (Yale Law Journal, forthcoming) (78 pages) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Article traces two interwoven jurisprudential genealogies. The first of these focuses on the emergence of neutrality in speech and press doctrine. Content and viewpoint neutrality are now the bedrock principles of modern First Amendment law. Yet the history of these concepts is largely untold and otherwise misunderstood. Scholars usually assume that expressive-freedom doctrine was mostly undeveloped before the early twentieth century and that neutrality was central to its modern rebirth. But this view distorts and sometimes even inverts historical perspectives. For most of American history, the governing paradigm of expressive freedom was one of limited toleration, protecting speech within socially defined boundaries. And the modern embrace of content and viewpoint neutrality, it turns out, occurred only in the 1960s as the Supreme Court merged earlier strands of rights jurisprudence in novel ways. The emergence of neutrality, this Article shows, was more gradual, more contested, and more contingent than we now assume. Recovering this history exposes the novelty of the modern neutrality paradigm, and it casts new light on the history of other First Amendment concepts, like prior restraints, low-value speech, and overbreadth.

To understand these developments, it is necessary to trace a second doctrinal genealogy focusing on the very idea of fundamental rights. Older views of expressive freedom, this Article reveals, were embedded in a different conceptual framework for thinking about rights. And once again, the role of neutrality was radically different. Today, neutrality is ubiquitous in rights discourse, reflecting the prevailing view that rights are domains in which people can make their own moral choices. Thus defined, rights need not be absolute, but they at least demand governmental neutrality with respect to values—a view that is reinforced by the undesirable alternative of judges defining non-neutral boundaries. Yet this neutrality-based view of rights also emerged well into the twentieth century, reflecting a transmogrified synthesis of earlier ideas.

Recovering these older paradigms powerfully illustrates how deeply our own perspective shapes the way that we view the Constitution. Things that appear natural when reading the First Amendment, it turns out, are refracted through a distinctively modern lens. Integrating history into modern rights jurisprudence thus poses a substantial and unresolved challenge, warranting further engagement by scholars and judges.

(Via Dan Ernst at Legal History Blog.)