First Amendment scores major victory in Seattle

Photo of William J. Watkins, Jr.
William J. Watkins, Jr.
Research Fellow, Independent Institute
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      William J. Watkins, Jr.

      William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. He received his B.A. in history and German summa cum laude from Clemson University and his J.D. cum laude from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is a former law clerk to Judge William B. Traxler, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and he has served as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Associate at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, and Associate with Leatherwood Walker Todd & Mann.

      His books include Judicial Monarchs: The Case for Restoring Popular Sovereignty in the United States and the Independent Institute book, Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy (Palgrave/Macmillan), and his scholarly articles have appeared in the South Carolina Law Review, The Independent Review, Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, Exploring American History Encyclopedia, and America in World History Encyclopedia.

      Mr. Watkins is the recipient of the R. Glen Ayers Award for Historical Writing and the CALI Award for Contracts I, Civil Procedure, Problems in Professional Responsibility. His popular articles have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, Daily Caller, USA Today, Washington Times, Austin American- Statesman, Providence Journal, San Jose Mercury News, Washington Examiner, Denver Post, Fort Worth Star- Telegram, Bellingham Herald, Lexington Herald-Leader, Sacramento Bee, Duluth News Tribune, Janesville Gazette, Walworth County Today, Wapakoneta Daily News, Dispatch, La Crosse Tribune, Lewiston Sun Journal, and Newport Daily News, San Francisco Examiner, Human Events, Chronicles, and Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal.

Even major magazines like Forbes and Vogue are often more than 50 percent advertising. Based on Seattle’s stance in court, such high advertising content could have placed these magazines over a threshold where they would be subject to government regulation.

Fortunately, the court could not find “a principled reason to treat telephone directories differently from newspapers, magazines, television programs, radio shows, and similar media that does not turn on an evaluation of their contents.”

The Ninth Circuit should be applauded for rejecting Seattle’s program of speech restrictions. If First Amendment guarantees are not applied fairly and uniformly, governments could too easily characterize unfavorable speech as “commercial” and subject it to myriad restrictions.

Election-season excesses aside, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are worth defending.

William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute (independent.org), Oakland, CA, and author of the book, “Reclaiming the American Revolution.”