Ronald K.L. Collins

Ronald K.L. Collins is the Harold S. Shefelman scholar at the University of Washington School of Law and a fellow at the Washington, D.C., office of the First Amendment Center. He writes and lectures on freedom of expression and developed the First Amendment Center Online's Supreme Court Library.

Before coming to the center, Collins served as a law clerk to Justice Hans A. Linde on the Oregon Supreme Court and thereafter was a Judicial Fellow under Chief Justice Warren Burger at the U.S. Supreme Court. He was elected president of the Supreme Court Fellows Alumni Association in 2008.

He has taught constitutional law and commercial law at Temple Law School and George Washington Law School. Collins has written constitutional briefs that were submitted to the Supreme Court and various other federal and state high courts. He has also published some 50 articles in scholarly journals such as the Harvard, Stanford and Michigan law reviews. His writings on the First Amendment have appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications.

Collins is co-author (with David Skover) of The Trials of Lenny Bruce (2002) and The Death of Discourse (1996/ 2nd ed., 2006), and the editor of Constitutional Government in America (1981). His next book is Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: A Free Speech Chronicle and Reader (Cambridge University Press, 2010), to be followed by We Must Not be Afraid to be Free: Stories about Free Speech in America (Oxford University Press, 2011) (with Sam Chaltain). Two recent scholarly articles are "Paratexts as Praxis," Neohelicon, to be published in June 2010 (with Skover) and "Foreword: To America’s Tomorrow – Commerce, Communication & the Future of Free Speech," 41 Loyola, Los Angeles, Law Review 1-39 (April 2008).

In 2003, Collins and Skover successfully petitioned the governor of New York to posthumously pardon Lenny Bruce. In 2004, they received the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award. Their scholarly articles include: "What is War? Free Speech in Wartime," 36 Rutgers Law Journal, 833 (2005), "Curious Concurrence: Justice Brandeis’ Vote in Whitney," 2005 Supreme Court Review 333 and "Foreword: The Landmark Free-Speech Case that Wasn’t: The Nike v. Kasky Story," 54 Case Western Reserve Law Review 965-1047 (2004).

In September 2006 Collins conducted a public interview with Anthony Lewis at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, and in February 2008 he interviewed Lewis for C-SPAN’s "Book TV."

Posts by Ronald K. L. Collins:

When NYT v. Sullivan was in Jeopardy: New Article Reveals Burger Court’s Internal Assault on Landmark Case

In First Amendment law the U.S. Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) is uniformly considered bedrock—the foundational First Amendment case of modern times. What many do not know is how very close the Burger Court came to cracking the Sullivan bedrock principle of “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” freedom of expression.

Viewing justices, First Amendment through rhetorical lens

Book suggests lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court might improve their chances of success if they know how to communicate in the language of those whom they wish to persuade.

Chafee’s ‘children’: forthcoming books examine freedoms

Much of pioneering Harvard Professor Zechariah Chafee Jr.’s thought finds modern-day expression in a variety of works, including in some forthcoming books.

Lawyers who made a First Amendment difference this term

Six attorneys who triumphed on free-speech and related principles in some of the Supreme Court’s biggest cases in 2010-11.

The Sedition Act & the trial of Thomas Cooper

The American commitment to freedom of speech and press is the more remarkable because it emerged from legal and political origins that were highly repressive.
— Anthony Lewis
The story of seditious libel in America begins with Benjamin Bache. So, who was he? If you were to consult his contemporaries, it would depend on whom you asked.
On [...]

A cacophony of sedition – poetry & the French Revolution

When we think of the origins of modern political uprisings, we think of revolutionary France and the insurrectionary philosophers of that day. And when we think of politics and free speech, we often think of pamphleteers and protesters. In all of this, who thinks of poetry?
Well, think again, and then get a copy of Robert [...]

Bong Hits 4 Jesus – the full & final story

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.— Ludwig Wittgenstein
It is a wondrous line, that passage from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (1921). It could readily serve as a First Amendment maxim. For we come to learn our world, in real measure, from the ways by which we speak of it, from how we give [...]

Assembly | | September 24, 2010

Protests & pain-ray guns — the future?

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It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon.
—Justice Joseph P. Bradley (1886)
Freedom depends on the conditions of freedom. The latter make the former possible, and sometimes impossible, too. Put another way, if the price of freedom is too high, people [...]

Speech | | August 4, 2010

David Mamet’s theater of freedom

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I want to defend, for the moment anyway, David Mamet. Not that this famous
American playwright, screenwriter, film director, author, and Pulitzer Prize
winner needs my defense; he doesn’t. I just read his latest book, Theatre
(2010). It has a cutting edge to it — smacks of Tom Paine (or maybe Christopher
Hitchens). That's why I was so [...]

Speech | | July 2, 2010

The First Amendment as a way of life

Suppose that the First Amendment were not just law but a way of life — what then?
Odd as that question may seem to lawyers and constitutionalists, it speaks to a fact all-too-often ignored: that is, the culture of freedom. While the law of the First Amendment is a limitation on government, the culture of the [...]

Nina Simone’s song of protest

Nina Simone (1933-2003) performed the other night at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. She packed them in at the progressive venue at 14th and V Streets. And in her own enchanting and rebellious way, she blew the doors off the jambs when she sang Ain’t Got No — I Got Life and other songs. [...]

Holmes’ idea marketplace – its origins & legacy

“The thing I … want to do is put as many new ideas into the law as I can, to show how particular solutions involve general theory, and to do it with style. I should like to be admitted to be the greatest jurist in the world.”— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Dec. 15, 1912
All know it. [...]

Press | | April 6, 2010

Blog: Saving the timid TV press from itself

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“I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed.” — Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones (1814)
In his own day, the very press Thomas Jefferson so ardently defended disappointed him. Still, he knew, the ideal of a free press was vital to preserve. The press had a responsibility to act as [...]

Freedom’s risks: the danger of safety

The safe life is not worth living. Admittedly, it is a provocative claim, something one might expect in literature but not in law. Then again, when it comes to both the law and philosophy of free speech, this idea has a long lineage tracing back to Socrates and even earlier. In antiquity the proposition was [...]

Blog: an appreciation of C. Edwin Baker, 1947-2009

C. Edwin Baker
The sad news came digitally: “Ed Baker dead,” was the caption in the e-mail subject window. Hard to believe that someone who was so alive with thoughts (controversial, to be sure) is now silent forever.
Though his friends all knew him as “Ed,” his full name was C. Edwin Baker. He was the Nicholas [...]

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