1997 March 30

“Clinton vs. First Amendment”


The noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams sharply criticized President Bill Clinton in the New York Times on this day for his positions on a number of issues that violate the principle of freedom of speech. He began by citing the Supreme Court hearing over the Communications Decency Act, which Clinton supported but the Supreme Court declared an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, on June 26, 1997. Abrams argued that it had become “the norm” for the Clinton administration’s lawyers to defend “laws or policies that maximize threats to free expression.” The problem, he argued, was Clinton’s attempt to position himself as a “new Democrat” and take positions that would insulate himself from Republican attacks. It may be “good politics,” he continued, but it was “at war with the First Amendment.”

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton claimed executive privilege to shield himself from a sexual harassment suit by Paula Jones, claiming that the suit would interfere with his duties as President. The Supreme Court on May 27, 1997 rejected his claim, citing the principle established in United States v. Nixon in the Watergate Scandal (see July 24, 1974).

On Clinton’s civil liberties record, read: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more: David Maraniss,  The Clinton Enigma: A Four and a Half Minute Speech Reveals This President’s Entire Life (1998)

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