Confessions of a Free Speech Lawyer
Charlottesville and the Politics of Hate
by Rodney A. Smolla
Pub Date 15 May 2020
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In the personal and frank Confessions of a Free Speech Lawyer, Rodney A. Smolla offers an insider's view of the violent confrontations in Charlottesville during the "Summer of Hate." Blending memoir, courtroom drama, and a consideration of the unresolved wound of racism in our society, he shines a light on the conflict between the value of free speech and the protection of civil rights.
Smolla has spent his career in the thick of these tempestuous and fraught issues, from acting as lead counsel in a famous Supreme Court decision challenging Virginia's anti-cross burning law, to being co-counsel in a libel suit brought by a fraternity against Rolling Stone magazine for publishing an article alleging a gang-rape initiation ritual. And yet, he has also been active as a university leader, where he has served as Dean of three law schools and President of one, railing against hate speech and sexual assault on American campuses.
Well before the tiki torches cast their ominous shadows across the nation, the city of Charlottesville sought to relocate the "Unite the Right" rally; Smolla was approached to represent the alt-right groups. Though he declined, he came to wonder what his history of advocacy had wrought. Feeling unsettlingly complicit, he joined the Charlottesville Task Force, where he realized that the events that transpired had meaning and resonance far beyond a singular time and place. Why, he wonders, has one of our foundational rights created a land in which such tragic clashes happen all too frequently?
Rodney A. Smolla is Dean and Professor of Law at the Delaware Law School of Widener University and is the author of numerous books, including The Constitution Goes to College, Deliberate Intent, and Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt. He is a nationally known scholar and writer and has presented oral argument in state and federal courts across the country.
"This book is dazzling in its interweaving of such a rich tapestry of information and analysis, told in the form of mesmerizing stories. This book should be read by everyone from Supreme Court Justices to high school students."—Nadine Strossen, Former President, American Civil Liberties Union, author of HATE
"Unlike anything I have read, this is a terrific book that uses Charlottesville as a lens to look at larger issues with regard to speech and race. Clear and engaging, it is stunning in its descriptions of the First Amendment."—Erwin Chemerinsky, Berkeley Law, author of We The People