Duty-Defining Power and the First Amendment's Civil Domain

Timothy Zick, William & Mary Law School


In Rethinking Free Speech and Civil Liability,1 Daniel Solove and Neil Richards attempt something truly ambitious. The authors seek to map coherent boundaries for the First Amendment’s vast civil domain. Their project merits serious attention. Currently, different rules apply to civil liability for speech depending on whether the liability arises in tort, contract, or property. Solove and Richards claim that these boundaries are unworkable, under-theorized, and in some cases destined to collide. They develop a framework for mapping the First Amendment’s civil domain that is based upon a distinction regarding the type of power the state exercises in various civil liability contexts. This response critically examines the choice and meaning of power, and the boundaries that a power-defining approach would draw.