Ask someone to name a First Amendment lawyer. If they answer, one-hundred percent of the time the answer will be the same: Floyd Abrams. Then ask them to name another such lawyer. The answer: silence. It is a sign of the times that the name Floyd Abrams is synonymous with the First Amendment in a way that virtually no other name is.
Floyd Abrams has been counsel in some landmark First Amendment cases, including the Pentagon Papers Case. He has argued major press cases, including Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976), Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia (1978) and Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co. (1979). More recently he played a major role in campaign financing cases such as McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). Most recently, he has taken charge of the defense of journalists threatened with jail for refusing to disclose their confidential sources.
This April Viking Books will release Mr. Abrams’ first book, Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment. In this memoir of a First Amendment lawyer, the reader is offered a thoughtful and readable account of the fascinating 30-plus-year career of a lawyer who has fought in the judicial trenches to defend free-speech principles.
In Speaking Freely Abrams re-creates eight of the most important cases of his career -- decisive trials and Supreme Court arguments involving major First Amendment cases. His readers are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the people and conflicts that came to the fore in shaping some of our most important free-speech law. This look at “law in action” is in stark contrast to the all-too-often rarefied look of First Amendment law offered by scholars.
At a recent conference on “Free Speech in Wartime,” Abrams was characteristically pensive in his comments concerning the risks of freedom -- risks that he felt should not always be taken. In that sense, he is no First Amendment absolutist. Still, the ever pragmatic Abrams is enough of a First Amendment idealist to be able to move the law of free speech to a secure enough place where even fervent absolutists can rest easy at night.