Anthony Lewis, Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (Random House, 1991)
Reissued by Vintage in paperback in 1992
As a Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, Anthony Lewis covered the landmark free speech and freedom of the press case that was New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964. In Make No Law, he offers a brief history of the two hundred years of free speech protection and persecution that led the High Court to extend constitutional protections for criticism of a public official in his official conduct.
Before Times v. Sullivan, inflammatory language did not have explicit constitutional protection even when it appeared to be a legitimate criticism of a public official. During the Civil Rights movement, southern police chiefs, city officials, governors, and other administrators used libel lawsuits as a means of chilling opposition speech, especially from northern newspapers, which they viewed as "reckless publishers" who had the "habit of permitting anything detrimental to the South and its people to appear in their columns" (34). The purpose of the flurry of libel suits in the early 1960s, Lewis writes, "was to discourage not false but true accounts of life under a system of white supremacy" (35). Lewis notes that the attorneys for The Times who worked on the Supreme Court briefs and oral arguments knew that they were arguing for a new class of protected speech; he details the hours they spent on research, and he reveals the sources for their shift in legal and historical philosophy regarding the First Amendment.
Lewis would have benefited from an up-front disclosure as to why he subjects the reader to five tedious chapters about the free speech tendencies of the founding fathers and previous Supreme Court justices. The background reading is revealed as necessary only after Lewis quotes at length from the Times v. Sullivan opinion, which itself quotes extensively from the early documents of liberty. Otherwise, Lewis paints a compelling portrait of the Court, its background and precedent that led to the unanimous Times v. Sullivan opinion. He includes some of the most eloquent defenses of free speech in America's history, including Justice Louis Brandeis' dissent in Whitney v. California in 1927, the language that eventually became precedent for First Amendment protection.
Make No Law was received as a mainstream history book, a readable account of free speech protection; "No responsible journalist will be without it," Columbia Journalism Review asserted. Now, Make No Law is a staple of American Studies, journalism, and media law course syllabi at universities throughout the country.
Review by Columbia Journalism Review
Biography by the Radio Telefis Eireann-University College Dublin
Review by Nicole E. Smith, Louisiana State University communications instructor
Georgetown University's conferral of honorary Doctor of Laws, 2003