ERIC Number: ED250728
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1980-Apr
Reference Count: 0
The Cost of Freedom: Speech in the Courtroom.
Brownlee, Don; Brownlee, Suzan
The political trials of the past two decades have shown the misuse and abuse of judicial summary contempt power in limiting individual liberty. The primary justification offered for use of the contempt power has been the need to deter obstruction of the administration of justice. The trials of the Chicago 7 and the Black Panthers were intricately linked with American political currents, and this type of trial has spotlighted the conflict between freedom of speech and the need for order in the courtroom. Responses such as the binding and gagging of defendants that occurred in these trials not only punish any obstruction of the judicial process, but also serve as a prior restraint on the defendant's freedom to communicate. Such action is both harmful and unnecessary. Actions that impede or preclude oral communication in a conflict situation such as a trial only beg for more violent responses. It has been contended that wise use of the power can reduce its deleterious effects, but such wisdom is nearly impossible to achieve. Judges will embody the values of the politicians who appointed them and can hardly function effectively while they are objects of vilification. That a judge could dispassionately use the contempt power following bitter confrontation is unlikely. Finally, the use of the summary contempt power places the judge in a dual and untenable position of both bringing and trying charges against a defendant, antithetical to American judicial law. Disruptive conduct can and should be disciplined without restraining a defendant's future right to speak. (HTH)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Black Panther Party; Contempt of Court
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Association (Birmingham, AL, April 8-11, 1980).