In an article for the StarTribune, Edward J. Cleary, chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and author of Beyond the Burning Cross, discusses the US Supreme Court’s landmark free speech opinion in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. This month is the 25th anniversary of the June 1992 opinion. At the time, Judge Cleary was a public defender for the appellant, a juvenile with initials R.A.V., and argued the case before the US Supreme Court.
An interesting tidbit from the Judge’s article:
So how did we convince the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review of a seemingly minor case involving a juvenile (RAV) and a city ordinance? And how did we convince the justices to then unanimously reverse the Minnesota Supreme Court?
Speech codes on college campuses.
We recognized early on that the St. Paul ordinance and speech codes both stemmed from the growing movement for what had then recently been labeled “political correctness.” Our petition for a writ of certiorari analogized the St. Paul hate speech ordinance to the language of speech codes, just beginning to proliferate in spring 1991.
Long before “trigger warnings,” “intellectual safe spaces” and “bias response teams,” well-meaning but misguided administrators were aiding and abetting self-censorship at institutions of higher learning. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 reached out to take the case to address this growing threat to free speech. And address it they did.
The Judge concludes:
An essential part of our American identity must always be an unwavering respect for, and devotion to, the right of free expression, even for those who disagree with us.
When I commenced my oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court as appellant’s counsel on Dec. 4, 1991, well aware that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to address the court, I began as follows:
“Each generation must reaffirm the guarantee of the First Amendment with the hard cases. The framers understood the dangers of orthodoxy and standardized thought and chose liberty.”
The dangers of orthodoxy and standardized thought remain. It is time for this generation of students to choose liberty.