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, is launching a quarterly “report card” that will evaluate the state of each of the five freedoms of the First Amendment in the age of Donald Trump. 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.
We polled 15 First Amendment experts — academics, lawyers, journalists and activists — from across the political spectrum, and have based our report card on their opinions. (Our panelists are listed at the end of this report card; panelists’ affiliations are noted for identification purposes only.) This panel of experts has committed to providing updates of their opinions every quarter. 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.
This first report card is intended to set the baseline for First Amendment grades, so that we may effectively track future changes and shifts in the status of our 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). Our goal is to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the five First Amendment freedoms at this moment in time, so that subsequent report cards can accurately reflect any changes in the landscape.
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.