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News Posted on October 21, 2013

Yale Professor Akhil Amar Delivers Central Valley Foundation Lecture on the First Amendment

Akhil AmarAkhil Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, delivered the 2013 Central Valley Foundation/James B. McClatchy Lecture on the First Amendment in the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom on October 16. Speaking to a full house that included numerous King Hall faculty and Central Valley Foundation co-founder Susan McClatchy, Amar spoke on "The Firstness of the First Amendment."

Steve Boutin '72 of Boutin Jones, a member of the Law School's Alumni Association Board of Directors and Chair of the Central Valley Foundation Board, delivered brief opening remarks expressing the Foundation's pride in sponsoring the Central Valley Foundation/James B. McClatchy Lecture series, which promotes discussion and understanding of First Amendment issues.

Boutin also noted the impressive turnout of legal scholars including not only Akhil Amar and his brother, UC Davis School of Law Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Vikram Amar, but also King Hall faculty including Dean Kevin R. Johnson and Professors Cruz Reynoso, Alan Brownstein, Rex Perschbacher, John Hunt, Anupam Chander, Gabriel "Jack" Chin, Carlton Larson, Miguel Méndez, Peter Lee, Clay Tanaka, Rose Villazor Cuison, Ashutosh Bhagwat, Margaret Johns, Martha West, Darien Shanske, Brian Soucek, and Thomas Joo.

"Did anybody notice the shift of the axis if the world?" Boutin remarked. "Today, the center of the constitutional world, with the brothers Amar and with the esteemed faculty of King Hall, is right here in Davis, California."

Akhil Amar's lecture provided an overview of the ways in which the First Amendment is textually, historically, structurally, doctrinally, and culturally first among constitutional provisions.  He spoke of the Constitution as "an intergenerational textual project" that encompasses both the words and ideals of the Founders and those of subsequent generations.  The Reconstruction Amendments, authored and passed by a generation that viewed constitutional rights through the "prism" of the Civil War, played a central role in establishing the First Amendment as "first among equals," Amar said. He also talked about how the primacy and popularity of the First Amendment has prompted some questionable interpretations, such as the idea that free speech protections prohibit campaign contribution limits.

"The very firstness of the First Amendment surely requires that we protect it vigorously from its enemies, from those who would try to stifle genuine political and religious freedom, as has happened far too often in our history," Amar said. "But the First Amendment's firstness also places this amendment at risk from false friends.  Beware: there are those today who claim that they are vindicating first freedoms who are in reality pushing agendas that are at best oblique and at worst opposed to the egalitarian and the democratic heart of our First Amendment."