Is independent political speech the linchpin of our democracy or its Achilles' heel? For democracy to work, some say, citizens (and corporations, and unions, and media outlets, and other voluntary organizations) must be allowed to express their views on the issues, candidates, and elections of the day. This proposition, they say, is exactly why the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and of the press. On this view, restrictions on independent political speech undermine and subvert our constitutional structure. But others take a different view: If everyone can spend as much money as they like to express their political views, then some voices will be amplified, magnified and enhanced - while others will be all but drowned out. On this view, it is this inequality of influence that subverts our constitutional structure - and restrictions that level the playing field actually enhance rather than abridge the freedom of speech.
Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center, the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. Constitution.
Floyd Abrams, one of the leading legal authorities on the First Amendment and U.S. constitutional law, is a partner and member of the Executive Committee at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP. He has argued frequently in the Supreme Court, and in 2010, prevailed in his argument before the Supreme Court on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell as amicus curiae, defending the rights of corporations and unions to speak publicly about politics and elections in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In one of his most famous cases, Abrams defended The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case, in which the paper published secret reports on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In November, 2011, Yale Law School announced the formation of The Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression.
John Donvan is the moderator for "Intelligence Squared U.S." He is an author and correspondent for ABC News. He has hosted "Nightline," "World News," "Good Morning America," and NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” in addition to producing “My Generation” for PBS. He has also served as ABC’s Chief White House correspondent and held postings in London, Jerusalem, Moscow and Amman. Recognized by the National Magazine Awards for his 2011 Atlantic profile piece “Autism’s First Child,” he is currently writing a book on the history of autism to be published by Crown in 2013.
Burt Neuborne is the Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties and founding Legal Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. For 45 years, he has been one of the nation's foremost civil liberties lawyers, serving as National Legal Director of the ACLU from 1981-86, Special Counsel to the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1990-1996, and as a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission from 1988-1992. He has argued numerous Supreme Court cases, and has litigated literally hundreds of important constitutional cases in the state and federal courts. He challenged the constitutionality of the Vietnam War, pioneered the flag burning cases, worked on the Pentagon Papers case, worked with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she headed the ACLU Women's Rights Project, anchored the ACLU's legal program during the Reagan years, and defended the Legal Services program against unconstitutional attacks. From 1995 to 2007, he directed the legal program of the Brennan Center, focusing on efforts to reinforce American democracy and secure campaign finance reform. The Brennan Center was established in 1994 to honor Justice William Brennan, Jr.’s monumental contribution to American Law.
At the same time, Professor Neuborne has forged a national reputation as a constitutional scholar and teacher. In 1990, he was the recipient of the University-wide Distinguished Teacher Award at New York University for his work in teaching Civil Procedure, Evidence, Federal Courts and Constitutional Law. He is the author of three books and over 20 law review articles on diverse areas of constitutional law and procedure. Among his best known scholarly works is the two-volume Political and Civil Rights in the United States, which he co-authored with NYU colleagues Norman Dorsen and Sylvia Law and the Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, Paul Bender. His 1992 lectures on American law at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona have been translated and published in Spanish. In 2001, in recognition of his scholarship and his work in the courts, Professor Neuborne was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1996, Professor Neuborne appeared as Jerry Falwell's lawyer in Milos Forman's The People v. Larry Flynt.
For the past 14 years, Professor Neuborne has served as a principal counsel in a series of lawsuits seeking to recover property unjustly taken from Holocaust victims by Swiss banks and German corporations during the Nazi era. The litigation has succeeded in assembling more than $8.5 billion for distribution to Holocaust victims and their families throughout the world. Professor Neuborne was appointed by the Court to oversee the $1.25 Swiss bank settlement, and was appointed by the United States to serve on the Board of Trustees of the German Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future,” established to distribute the $5.2 billion settlement in the German slave labor litigation.
Professor Neuborne is married to Helen Redleaf Neuborne.
Nadine Strossen, Professor of Law at New York Law School, has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties, and international human rights. Since 1991, she has served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation's largest and oldest civil liberties organization.
Zephyr Teachout is an associate law professor at Fordham Law School. She writes about political law, with a focus on corruption: her book Corruption in America (Harvard University Press) is coming out in fall 2014. She is also known for her innovative work as director of online organizing for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, where she led the first technical team developing social media tools for supporters, many of which were used in Obama's 2008 online campaign. As the first national director of the Sunlight Foundation, she led several crowd-sourced investigative journalism projects, including a national campaign to expose the political connections behind earmarks. She is a fellow at the New America Foundation’s Markets, Enterprise, and Resiliency Initiative, working on developing frameworks to understand the role of monopolistic companies in American political ecosystem.