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August 21, 2003

Original WHYY Program Examines First Amendment in the 21st Century

THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, presented in cooperation with the Philadelphia Bar Association, features the first substantive content event ever to be held at the NCC. Panelists include: Floyd Abrams, partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and visiting professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism; Marci A. Hamilton, Thomas H. Lee Chair of Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University; Solomon Watson, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, The New York Times; and Seth P. Waxman, former Solicitor General of the United States.

During the program, the panelists debate many issues presented by Norris, but the one issue they all agree on is that what makes the First Amendment extraordinary is its "flexibility" - it's application and interpretation can adjust over the years to better reflect the times we live in.

The subject of making America a safer place after the events of September 11 without infringing on people's liberties, is one of the many First Amendment topics explored in the program. Panelists discuss the USA Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to seek records from libraries and bookstores if they are deemed relevant to a terrorist investigation.

Floyd Abrams warns, "These things are not always illegal - they are always dangerous."

Seth Waxman agrees. "There's no doubt that when the government tries to search library records and bookstore records, First Amendment rights are chilled."

Marci Hamilton believes it is sometimes necessary to seek records from libraries and bookstores in order to maintain safety throughout the country. "The government has the obligation to protect liberty and life," states Hamilton.

Solomon Watson states that the government's interest in library and bookstore records is an attempt to ease the Nation's concerns and fears brought on by September 11. "It is not unusual for Congress to attempt to reflect the views of the citizens in times of war," says Watson.

The panel also debates the issue of how to regulate the content of the Internet, such as preventing children from accessing questionable material, without violating First Amendment rights.

Watson believes that, in spite of growing pressure from citizens to create new laws that will further regulate the Internet, legislatures feel uncomfortable with the task of deciding what is "indecent."

All panelists agreed that the Government has had a difficult time convincing the Supreme Court that new legislation can effectively regulate the Internet without imposing on people's First Amendment rights.

Waxman believes that in addition to protecting children, regulation of the Internet is necessary in order to protect citizens' private information, as well as businesses' proprietary commercial data.

The consensus of the panel was that it is simply too early in the 21st Century to determine how to legally regulate this rapidly growing medium.

When asked where First Amendment laws are headed in the next 20 years, Hamilton is confident that the needs of the country will determine what the First Amendment will or will not protect.

Waxman is not so confident. He expresses great concern about the "privatization of First Amendment values" by conservatives. Waxman believes that the recent inability of legislatures to pass law that would prevent the concentrated ownership of media is just one example of this privatization.

Other First Amendment issues discussed in the program include the USA Patriot Act's effect on the media, how the events of September 11 have affected citizens' right to dissent and how the First Amendment has begun to threaten privacy rights.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM was produced by WHYY-TV. Paul Gluck is executive producer.

Funding for this program was provided by Philadelphia Bar Association, PNC Bank and USI Colburn Insurance Service.

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