Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Communication contributes to the marketplace of ideasI which is the only way to promote the discovery of truth in society. The importance of communication has led the United States Supreme Court to herald freedom of expression as "the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." Indeed, the Court protects few other constitutional rights with such fervor. First Amendment protection is not absolute, however, and the United States Supreme Court consistently has asserted that certain forms or classes of expression may be regulated without violating the Constitution. Generally speaking, the Court has carved exceptions to First Amendment protection when the expression makes no contribution to the marketplace of ideas. One such class of unprotected speech is fighting words. Unfortunately, the Court has experienced great difficulty distinguishing fighting words from merely offensive ideas that clearly are entitled to the highest level of First Amendment protection.