First Amendment Report Cards

Rarely in our lifetimes has there been more controversy about the state of our First Amendment freedoms. It is critically important for our nation to have serious discussions about the threats and opportunities we face in maintaining and trying to enhance our democracy.

The Newseum Institute, the nation’s pre-eminent organization that explains, promotes and defends the five freedoms of the First Amendment, launched a quarterly “report card” in the Spring of 2017 to evaluate the state of each of the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Our report card seeks to go beyond often partisan ad hoc observations to provide a credible and systematic evaluation of freedom based on grades provided by a diverse set of some of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars and observers.

Our grading panel consists of 15 First Amendment experts— academics, lawyers, journalists and activists — from across the political spectrum.  They have committed to providing updates of their opinions every quarter, using a consistent methodology. We believe that such a regular report will provide an important service by generating informed conversations of the kind envisioned by the drafters of the First Amendment.

Report Cards


METHODOLOGY

The grading was performed by 15 insightful panelists from across the political spectrum. These panelists have committed to providing quarterly updates of their grades for at least one year.

Each panelist was sent a survey asking them to assign a grade and add their commentary on each of the five freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

We recommended that panelists start with national/federal-level considerations, but encouraged them to take note of state actions as indicators or precedents. Panelists were advised that this first report card would set the baseline for First Amendment grades, in order to allow us to effectively track future shifts and changes to the state of First Amendment freedoms. For this reason, we instructed our panelists to base their evaluations on more than just the actions taken by the Trump administration during its first 100 days. We also asked them to consider pre-existing conditions (such as laws that pre-date the Trump administration), and issues the Trump administration does not directly control (such as speech on college campuses, or state-level restrictions on protests).

Panelists were asked to use their own criteria when assigning a letter grade, but were advised to consider the following four elements in making their evaluations:

  1. Legislation (passed or proposed)
  2. Executive orders
  3. Judicial decisions
  4. Public opinion

All panelists were encouraged to make comments to explain their grades.

Panelists were instructed to assign each freedom a letter grade, without using pluses or minuses. In selecting the overall grade of a First Amendment freedom for our report card, we used the average of the grades assigned by our panelists.


PANELISTS

Panelists’ affiliations are noted for identification purposes only.

  • Richard Blum, Director of News Media for Open Government (formerly the Sunshine in Government Initiative)
  • Robert Corn-Revere, lawyer and expert in First Amendment and media law
  • Lucy Dalglish, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, and former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Richard Foltin, Director of National and Legislative Affairs, American Jewish Committee (AJC)
  • David F. Forte, Garwood Visiting Professor, Princeton University, former Counselor for Legal Affairs, United States Mission to the United Nations
  • Nathaniel Frederick II, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Mass Communication, Director of African American Studies, Winthrop University
  • Lata Nott, Executive Director of the First Amendment Center of the Newseum Institute
  • Mickey Osterreicher, General Counsel for the National Press Photographers Association
  • Ken Paulson, President of the First Amendment Center of the Newseum Institute and former editor of USA Today
  • Brett Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law and Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU
  • Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review
  • Bradley Smith, Professor of Law, Capital University, founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission
  • Stephen D. Solomon, author of “Revolutionary Dissent,” Marjorie Deane Professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University, teaching First Amendment law
  • Mark Trahant, independent journalist and the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota
  • Asma Uddin, Director of Strategy, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom