A Florida court said 2 Live Crew’s rap lyrics were obscene, but a circuit
court reversed the decision, saying the music was protected by the First
Though revered by history, Abraham Lincoln has been criticized for his
restrictions on civil liberties during the Civil War, including First
Amendment freedoms. People expressing pro-Confederate sentiments were
arrested, and the Chicago Times newspaper was shuttered for criticizing
Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2020
to fill a vacancy after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died. Still new to the
court, it will take more cases to fully examine her record on First
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), who served as president from 1829 to 1837, was one of the most consequential presidents in U.S. history. Born in North Carolina, Jackson spent most of his life in Tennessee where he served as a justice on the state supreme court from 1798 to 1804 and as a U.S. senator from 1823
Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) was born in North Carolina but spent most of his life in Tennessee. Lacking formal education, he began his working life as a tailor and was taught by his wife to read and write. A Jacksonian Democrat, he served as a town alderman, as mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee, in the U.S. House
Anne Hutchinson was a religious leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the mother of 15 children. She held Bible studies in her home, which were attended by both men and women, and she challenged the authority of the Puritan clergy. Hutchinson was eventually banished from the colony and moved to Rhode Island.
Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), the grandson of former president William Henry Harrison and the great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, who had signed the Declaration of Independence. He served as the 23rd president from 1889 to 1893. Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in the electoral college (albeit not in the popular vote) in 1888, but lost both the popular and
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, confirmed in 2018, authored many
First Amendment decisions while on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C.
Circuit. Among the issues in his opinions are protest rights, defamation,
campaign finance and freedom of speech and press.
Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) was born on July 4, 1872, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where he would receive the news in 1923 that President Warren G. Harding, under whom he served as vice president, had died and that he was now president. His father, a justice of the peace, had administered the oath to him by
Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) was born in Vermont (his father was a Baptist minister) but was raised in New York where he spent most of his life. He graduated from Union College, served for a time as a teacher, read law, and was admitted to the New York bar. During the Civil War, he served
Damon Keith was a long-serving judge on the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals and an important figure in protecting civil rights. He authored
many First Amendment decisions, including involving symbolic speech and the
rights of a religious speaker.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) was not only the longest serving but also one of the most consequential presidents in U.S. history. Born and raised in New York, Roosevelt earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from Columbia. Subsequently elected to the New York Senate, he also served as assistant secretary of the
Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) was born in New Hampshire and educated at Bowdoin College in Maine and Northampton Law School in Massachusetts. He served as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives where he rose to the speakership, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1833 to 1847, and was a
Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became one of America’s greatest
orators, believed that the First Amendment rights to free speech and
assembly were essential in abolishing slavery in the United States.
Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) has the distinction of being the only U.S. president to serve two non-successive terms. He became the 22nd president when he served from 1885 to 1889 and the 24th when he served from 1893 to 1897. Born in New Jersey (his father was a Presbyterian minister) and largely raised in New York, he
Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was born in Iowa — becoming the first president to be born west of the Mississippi River — and earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at Stanford University in California. A gifted engineer, Hoover earned a reputation and a formidable income in mining in Australia, Burma and elsewhere. He was tapped during
James A. Garfield (1831-1881) was from Ohio and was the last president to have been born in a log cabin. After some time doing manual labor, he studied at what later became known as Hiram College, which was run by the Disciples of Christ, and became a preacher. He subsequently graduated with honors from Williams
James Buchanan (1791-1868), who was born in Pennsylvania and earned his bachelor’s degree at Dickinson College, had a distinguished career as a lawyer, politician and diplomat before succeeding Franklin Pierce to become the United State’s 15th president from 1857 to 1861. Abraham Lincoln followed Buchanan as president. Prior to his presidency, Buchanan had served in the Pennsylvania
James K. Polk (1795-1849) was born in North Carolina but spent most of his political life in Tennessee. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and read law in Nashville under Felix Grundy. After serving as a clerk to the Tennessee State Senate, Polk was elected to the U.S.
James Monroe (1758-1731), who served as the fifth U.S. president from 1817 to 1825, is often identified as the last of the Founding Fathers. Born in Virginia, where he would serve as governor and which he would represent in the U.S. Senate, Monroe attended the College of William and Mary before serving as a soldier
Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan II was an architect of First
Amendment jurisprudence in obscenity law, freedom of association,
expressive conduct, and offensive speech.
John Seigenthaler was the longtime editor of The Tennessean in Nashville,
known for championing civil rights. He founded the First Amendment Center
at Vanderbilt University in 1991 and became a national leader in promoting
First Amendment values.
John Tyler (1790-1862) was born and raised in Virginia, where he attended the College of William and Mary and read law. He was elected at an early age to the state’s House of Delegates. During the War of 1812, he organized a militia company to defend Richmond. He served successively as a member of the
Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, an international non-profit
organization that publishes leaks from across the globe. In the First
Amendment world, questions abound as to whether Assange is a journalist or
simply the recipient of document dumps.
Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Joe Biden on June 30, 2022. She replaced Justice Stephen Breyer who had retired. Biden would likely have appointed her earlier had not Republicans rushed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett in the waning days of the Trump Administration, even though they
“Talk’s cheap.” “You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.” “Actions speak louder than words.” These are all expressions used to convey the idea that action, not just words, can lead to change. This was certainly embodied by Martin Luther King Jr., whose life was dedicated to social change. His approach of
Robert O’Neil (1934-2018) was an authority on First Amendment issues,
writing several books and amicus curiae briefs on First Amendment cases
that reached the Supreme Court. He also was the founding director of the
Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was born to a wealthy family in New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and studied law at Columbia, but he never embraced legal technicalities and spent most of his life in politics. He was elected to the New York Assembly, was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as a commissioner of
Ulysses (born Hiram) S. Grant (1822-1885) was born in Ohio to the family of a tanner. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where, because of a paperwork mistake, his name was changed from Hiram to Ulysses and he became known as U.S. Grant. After resigning from the Army in 1854 and returning
Warren G. Harding served as the nation’s 29th president from 1921 until his death in 1923. His presidency followed after Woodrow Wilson’s with a promise of restoring “normalcy” after World War I. He is usually regarded as one of the least effective individuals to hold the presidency. Born in 1865 and raised in Ohio, he earned
William McKinley (1943-1901) was born in Ohio and attended Allegheny College and Mount Union College before serving in the Union Army during the Civil War where he achieved the rank of brevet major. After spending about a year at the Albany Law School and studying with an attorney, McKinley began practicing law in Ohio. In time
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was one of the more consequential presidents of the 20th century, serving as president from 1913 to 1921, a period that included World War I. Born in Virginia to the family of a Presbyterian minister and raised in the South, Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, briefly practiced law in Georgia,
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850) was born in Virginia, largely raised in Kentucky, and claimed Louisiana as home. He spent most of his life in the U.S. Army where he became a major general and hero of the Mexican-American War. He was elected president as a Whig in the election of 1848, with Millard Fillmore as his