Andres Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He teaches journalism at Arizona State University.
U.S. Supreme Court justices are not supposed to say anything interesting outside of the Court. But in 2010, Justice Stephen Breyer was asked in a rare TV appearance if he thought a Florida pastor had a First Amendment right to burn a Koran.
First, Breyer cited Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s old line about not having the right to cry fire in a crowded theater. Then, he asked some interesting questions: What does that proverbial theater look like in our hyperlinked world? And what is our era’s equivalent of being trampled to death in that theater? As if remembering himself, he quickly added that the answers to such questions get defined in actual cases before the Court, over time (as opposed to on “Good Morning America”).
At the time, Breyer’s TV provocation was roundly denounced by free speech absolutists (a club I frequent). But I have found myself thinking about his questions in the aftermath of two major events involving the cross-border repercussions of speech: the horrible attack on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and the hacking of Sony Pictures before the release of the sophomoric comedy “The Interview.”