The Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to current and contemporary issues affecting the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, thought, assembly and petition.
The Project addresses these issues in multiple ways, including by:
Some examples of First Amendment issues on which the Project’s director has written, published and/or otherwise opined include:
The First Amendment Project's greatest supporter and benefactor was Marion B. Brechner, who passed away in January 2011. Her son, Berl Brechner, maintains an active role with the College and is a true supporter of the Project. Read more about the life and legacy of Marion B. Brechner.
The First Amendment protects “the freedom of speech.” It does not protect only one side of the debate. It is does not protect only polite or politically correct speech. It does not protect only popular speech.
The core values of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Protect thus pivot on:
"[There is] a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).
"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee."
Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367 (1969).
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989).
"[It is] often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual."
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25 (1971).
"The college classroom with its surrounding environs is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas."
Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972).
"The right of freedom of speech and press includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read . . . and freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom to teach – indeed the freedom of the entire university community."
Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482 (1965).
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In June 2016, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman coming out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The petitioners and the amicus brief urge the Court to hear a First Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of New York's no-surcharge statute, which prohibits merchants from imposing surcharges for credit card payments but allows them to offer discounts for customers who pay with cash. "The law negatively affects what merchants can say to customers and, in turn, the speech that consumers can receive to make better informed choices affecting how they spend their money," said First Amendment Project director Clay Calvert. A nearly identical Florida statute was enjoined by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 for violating the First Amendment speech rights of merchants in the Sunshine State, but the Second Circuit upheld New York's statute in 2015 and ruled that it did not affect freedom of speech. The amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to hear the appeal of Expressions Hair Design and other merchants.
In June 2016, Clay Calvert was one of 18 journalism scholars from across the nation to file a "journalism scholars" friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of National Abortion Federation v. Center for Medical Progress. The brief urges the Ninth Circuit to affirm a district court decision holding that David Daleiden was not using or following widely accepted and ethical principles of investigative journalism during his efforts to make secret recordings at the National Abortion Federation's annual meetings. Other journalism scholars joining Calvert on the brief include Todd Gitlin of Columbia University, Theodore Glasser of Stanford University and Tom Goldstein of the University of California, Berkeley.
On April 26, 2016, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the ACLU Foundation of Florida and multiple medical societies, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the long-running case of Wollschlaeger v. Florida. The case centers on a First Amendment challenge to a Florida statute that negatively affects the ability of physicians in the Sunshine State to discuss firearm possession with their patients. The brief argues the Florida statute should be subject to the rigorous strict scrutiny standard of judicial review and, in turn, should be struck down as an unconstitutional instance of viewpoint based censorship.
The Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project filed an amicus brief in March 2016 with the Supreme Court of Nevada in an anti-SLAPP statute case called Fellhauer v. Pope. The brief argues that local matters of neighborhood safety and residential privacy constitute issues of “public interest” within the scope of the Silver State’s anti-SLAPP statute.
The Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief on December 9, 2015, with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bell v. Itawamba County School Board. The case involves the First Amendment speech rights of public high school students who post messages to social media sites while off campus, using their own communication devices and during non-school hours, yet who nonetheless are punished on campus by school authorities. “This is a constant, Orwellian problem of school officials trying to stretch their jurisdiction far beyond campus and into the homes and bedrooms of minors across the country,” said Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication and director of the Brechner First Amendment Project.
In October 2015, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with a Texas appellate court in the case of AusPro Enterprises, Inc. v. Texas Dep’t of Transportation. The brief challenges the constitutionality of a Texas sign ordinance that discriminates based upon the content of signs. The brief was prepared with the assistance of the UCLA School of Law First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic directed by Professor Eugene Volokh. “After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this summer in Reed v. Town of Gilbert involving a very similar Arizona sign ordinance, laws such as the one we are challenging in Texas are almost certainly unconstitutional and should be struck down,” said Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. First Amendment Project.
In September 2015, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the Cato Institute and several other organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California in a case involving limitations imposed by a judge on the First Amendment rights of an individual as part of the conditions for his supervised release from prison. The issue is whether the limitations on speech that are part of the supervision conditions violate Darren Chaker's First Amendment rights.
In March 2015, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project was one of five leading non-profit First Amendment organizations from across the nation to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the so-called “Cannibal Cop” case of United States v. Valle.
In March 2015, the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project was one of 12 First Amendment scholars from across the country, including Irwin Chemerinsky and Vincent Blasi, to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in the defamation case of Ventura v. Kyle.
In August 2014, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the ACLU Foundation of Florida and multiple medical societies, joined in the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in a case affecting the First Amendment speech rights of physicians and healthcare providers called Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida.
In August 2014, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with rap music scholars Erik Nielson and Charis E. Kubrin, filed a friend-of-the-court merits brief with the United States Supreme Court in the true threats case Elonis v. United States.
In 2014, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the true threats case of Elonis v. United States.
In June 2013, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the political speech case of Hunter v. Virginia State Bar.
In November 2011, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the broadcast indecency case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations.
In October 2011, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the student speech case of Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools.
In September 2010, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the violent video game case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association.
In July 2010, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Pennsylvania Center of the First Amendment at Pennsylvania State University, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a free speech case centering on military funeral protests by members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The case is Snyder v. Phelps.
In March 2010, the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, along with Student Press Law Center and the Pennsylvania Center of the First Amendment, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a student speech case that tests the ability of school officials to censor online student speech that is created off campus. The case is J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District.
In early 2010, the Marion B. Brechner Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in a case centering on the right of citizens to collect signatures for ballot petitions. The case is called Citizens for Police Accountability Political Committee v. Browning, No. 09-861.
“Public Concern and Outrageous Speech: Testing the Inconstant Boundaries of IIED and the First Amendment Three Years After Snyder v. Phelps.” University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 17 (2), 437 – 478.
“A Familial Privacy Right Over Death Images: Critiquing the Internet-Propelled Emergence of a Nascent Constitutional Right that Preserves Happy Memories and Emotions.” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, 40 (3), 475 – 523 (2013).
"Past Bad Speakers, Performance Bonds & Unfree Speech: Lawfully Incentivizing 'Good' Speech or Unlawfully Intruding on the First Amendment?" Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, 3 (2), 245 - 276.
“Framing a Semantic Hot-News Quagmire in Barclays Capital v. Theflyonthewall.com: Of Missed Opportunities and Unresolved First Amendment Issues.” Virginia Journal of Law & Technology, 17 (1), 50 – 74 (2012).
"Judicial Erosion of Protection for Defendants in Obscenity Prosecutions?: When Courts Say, Literally, Enough is Enough and When Internet Availability Does Not Mean Acceptance." Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, 1 (1), 7-37 (2010).
Clay Calvert, a member of the State Bar of California and the Bar of the Court of the United States Supreme Court, is Professor and Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He previously served as the inaugural John & Ann Curley Professor of First Amendment Studies at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, where he taught for thirteen years.
He has authored or co-authored more than 120 law journal articles, publishing in journals affiliated with the law schools at Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, Notre Dame, Penn, UCLA, USC, Northwestern and Vanderbilt, as well as the universities of Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Calvert is a frequent commentator in the national press, having been quoted The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and USA Today and having authored or co-authored several dozen op-ed commentaries published in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Christian Science Monitor.
He is co-author, along with Don R. Pember, of the market-leading undergraduate media law textbook, Mass Media Law (19th ed. McGraw-Hill 2015), and is author of the book Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering in Modern Culture (Westview Press, 2000/2004).
Calvert received his J.D. with Great Distinction in 1991 from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law and then earned a Ph.D. in 1996 in Communication from Stanford University, where he also completed his undergraduate work with a B.A. in Communication in 1987.