William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Free speech disputes have broken out on numerous college and university campuses. In several incidents, protesters have attempted to block the presentations of well-known and controversial speakers who threaten the communal status of societal outsiders. These events have sparked not only widespread media coverage but also the publication of multiple scholarly books and articles. None of this scholarship, however, has recognized that the interrelated histories of free expression and democracy can shed considerable light on these matters. This Article takes on that challenge. Specifically, this Article explores the ramifications of the historical interrelationship between free expression and democracy for campus no-platforming disputes. Starting in the late 1930s, the U.S. Supreme Court dramatically invigorated the protection of expression in reaction to a paradigm change in democracy, going from a republican to pluralist democracy. Yet, one cannot conceptoalize pluralist democracy without accounting for the political community: who belongs and participates? Nowadays, to protect the operation of pluralist democracy itself, at least one issue must be taken off the table. All individuals must be treated as full and equal citizens in good standing. Any expression that undermines the political standing of a marginalized group should be subordinate to the needs of democracy and therefore beyond First Amendment protection.