Scalia wins free speech award, bans news coverage of event

March 20, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was lauded by a Cleveland club yesterday as a champion of free speech. But then he insisted that television and radio reporters leave the room before he spoke to the lunch crowd on his views of the U.S. Constitution.

The City Club of Cleveland gives its annual Citadel of Free Speech award to a "distinguished American" who has contributed significantly to "the preservation of the First Amendment."

The award cited Scalia's vote in 1989 for a ruling that struck down the laws against flag burning and his opinion for the court in 1992 that struck down a city law against cross burning.

Although Scalia often speaks at law schools and to other groups, he refuses to allow TV or audio recordings.

"I understand the irony, but the fact is we made the agreement," said James H. Foster, the club's executive director.

While free-speech experts weren't surprised to hear Scalia had banned TV cameras, some were surprised to hear he'd won a First Amendment award.

"He is in the middle of the pack on the current court on free-speech issues," said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who tracks voting patterns. "If I had to name a justice who broadly supports protection for speech, I would say Justice [Anthony M.] Kennedy, and then Justices [David H.] Souter and [Clarence] Thomas."

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