Below is my column this week on the campaign to block the publication of a book by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. It is all a part of movement of censorship and speech intolerance that has swept across our campuses and news rooms. What is most striking is how these editors and publishers are insisting that they are supporting free speech by silencing others.
Here is the column:
In the last ten years, censorship has become the rage from the halls of Congress to college campuses. Free speech is now often portrayed as an existential threat rather than a right defining our constitutional system.
This crisis of faith is no more evident than in the call of writers and journalists for books to be banned or speakers to be silenced.
The latest (and one of the most disturbing) examples is a letter signed by hundreds of “literary figures” last week to get companies to block publication of a book by Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett because they disagree with her judicial philosophy. After all, why burn books when you can effectively ban them?
The public letter entitled “We Dissent” makes the usual absurd protestation that, just because we are seeking to ban books of those with opposing views, we still “care deeply about freedom of speech.” They simply justify their anti-free speech position by insisting that any harm “in the form of censorship” is less than “the form of assault on inalienable human rights” in opposing abortion or other constitutional rights.Yet, the letter is not simply dangerous. It is perfectly delusional. While calling for the book to be blocked, the writers bizarrely insist “we are not calling for censorship.”
While the letter has been described as signed by “literary figures,” it actually contains many who are loosely connected to the “broader literary community” like “Philip Tuley, Imam” and “Barbara Hirsch, Avid reader.” It also includes many who are simply identified by initials or first names like “Leslie” without any stated connection.
Nevertheless, there are many editors and publishing figures who list their companies and university presses with their titles in calling for censorship. The list speaks loudly to why dissenting or conservative authors find it more difficult to publish today. These are editors who are publicly calling for banning the publication of those who hold opposing views from their own.
The focus of the letter is the fact that Barrett voted with the majority in the Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Barrett has been singled out in the past due to her judicial philosophy (which is shared by many federal judges and millions of citizens). Her home has been targeted and activists have published school information on her young children.
Recently, Rhodes College alumni sought to strip references to Barrett from the college because they disagree with her views.
Her college sorority was even forced to apologize for simply congratulating her for being one of a handful of women to be nominated to the high court.
No attack appears to be beyond the pale for media or the left. Barrett sat through days of such baseless attacks on her character and even had to face attacks referencing her children. Ibram X. Kendi, the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, claimed that her adoption of two Haitian children raised the image of a “white colonizer” and suggested that the children were little more than props for their mother.
The signatories express a common righteous rage to justify censoring others. We have seen this hypocrisy openly displayed by those who want to censor authors or journalists in the name of free speech or the free press.
The editors of the legal site Above the Law have repeatedly swatted down objections to the loss of free speech and viewpoint diversity in the media and academia. In a recent column, they mocked those of us who objected to the virtual absence of conservative or libertarian faculty members at law schools.
Senior editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” based on the fact that liberal views reflect real law as opposed to junk law. (Patrice regularly calls those with opposing views “racists,” including Chief Justice John Roberts because of his objection to race-based criteria in admissions as racial discrimination). He explained that hiring a conservative academic was akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism (or that the sun orbits the earth) to teach at a university.
It is that easy. You simply declare that conservative views shared by a majority of the Supreme Court and roughly half of the population are not acceptable to be taught.
Writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy.
Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford Communications professor, Ted Glasser, rejected the notion that journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.”
Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods have called for Chinese-style censorship of the internet, stating that “China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”
These are professors, writers, and editors who are sawing off the very branch upon which they sit. That would not be a problem but for the fact that they are doing lasting damage not only to free speech but their professions. For a writer to be against free speech is like an athlete being against exercise. It is the defining right for our country and an existential right for writers and academics.
This letter is not simply another manifestation of viewpoint intolerance. It is a statement of virtual self-loathing from people who work in the literary world; writers and editors who cannot abide the publication of opposing views.
As for Justice Barrett, such attacks are unlikely to deter her from ruling according to her long-held and well-established jurisprudential views.
She does not deserve such attacks but these individuals are the face of rage in our society. It is a general psychosis that overwhelms every countervailing value; it allows writers and editors to oppose free speech and expect us applaud them for it.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University and a practicing criminal defense attorney. He is a Fox News contributor.