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Scholars to debate merits of protecting commercial speech

  • Martin Redish argued commercial speech should be protected in landmark article
  • Article provided commercial speech substantial First Amendment protection
  • Scholars to take opposing positions over protecting commercial speech

The groundbreaking work of a Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law scholar will be commemorated in a daylong symposium that will bring together leading First Amendment scholars from around the country to discuss commercial speech doctrine since Professor Martin Redish wrote an article that radically departed from conventional legal precedents on the subject.   

Commercial Speech and the First Amendment: Past, Present and Future” will be held Oct. 14 at Northwestern Law, Rubloff Room 150, 357 E. Chicago Ave.

Commercial speech is today among the most controversial issues in constitutional scholarship today.

Forty-five years ago, Redish, the Louis and Harriet Professor of Law and Public Policy, wrote an article that grew out of his senior thesis as a third-year Harvard Law School student. The article presented a detailed, theoretical argument to support the position that commercial speech is deserving of substantial constitutional protection under the First Amendment guarantee of free expression.


At the time of its publication, the article represented a radical departure from long- accepted First Amendment doctrine, which summarily excluded commercial speech from the First Amendment’s protective scope.

In recent years, scholarly and popular sources have pointed to Redish’s 1971 article as the origin of the modern commercial speech doctrine.

“As a result, speech, concerning the relative merits of commercial products and services, is deemed as important to the facilitation of the democratic process as is fully protected political expression,” Redish said. He will discuss “Commercial Speech and the Evolution of the Equivalency Principle” at the symposium.

Redish grounded the conclusion in his article, “The First Amendment in the Marketplace: Commercial Speech and the Values of Free Expression” (George Washington Law Review, 1971), on his development of the concept of “private self-government.” He argued that private individuals need information and opinion concerning private life-affecting choices as well as information relevant to collective self-governing decisions in the political process.

Five years later, U.S. Supreme Court doctrine changed significantly. In the years since that decision, commercial speech has been extended substantial First Amendment protection and has become among the most controversial issues in constitutional scholarship.

Other symposium presentations include “Free Speech and Free Enterprise: The New Deal Origins of First Amendment Protection for Commercial Speech,” by Laura Weinrib of the University of Chicago Law School; “Are Commercial Speech Cases Ideological?” by Adam M. Samaha of New York University School of Law; and “Uncivil and Untruthful Expression Is Unworthy of Constitutional Protection,” by Douglas W. Kmiec of Pepperdine University School of Law.

See the symposium schedule for a complete list of speakers and presentations.

Papers from the symposium will be published in a special symposium issue of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal.

Attendance at the symposium is by advance registration only; the symposium will provide 6 continuing legal education (CLE) credit hours in the State of Illinois.

Please fill out the online registration form to attend the conference. Registration questions should be directed to Cara Peterson, events coordinator, at

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