Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Freedom of speech under Anglo-American law has never been an absolute right, and numerous exercises of free speech (and of free press)have been subjected to inhibiting legal sanctions, both criminal and civil,almost from the beginning of our common law heritage. It is true that the Blackstonian rule prohibiting "previous restraints upon publications" purported, to protect absolutely the initial right to publish. But an absolute right to publish what one may thereafter be criminally punished or forced to pay civil damages for publishing is obviously illusory in its absoluteness.It is not an absolute right in any real sense of the term. Laws dealing with libel and slander, obscenity and blasphemy, contempt of court, treason, deceit and false advertising, among others, impose substantial limitations upon speech and publication in our society.