Some 50 constitutional scholars fired off a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, FCC chairman Reed Hundt and members of Congress on Wednesday warning that pending anti-violence legislation violates the First Amendment.
The missive — sent under the auspices of the American Civil Liberties Union — warns that free speech rights of viewers and broadcasters would be abridged by passage of TV anti-violence legislation, and the legal scholars called on Sens. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) to abandon their efforts in the area.
“Despite the apparent agreement by the networks and cable companies to some form of advisories and monitoring, efforts to curb TV violence by legislation or FCC regulation are almost certain to continue,” said ACLU legislative counsel Robert Peck. “This letter indicates the uniformity of opinion by those most schooled in First Amendment law that these efforts are unconstitutional.”
The missive was signed by such constitutional scholars as Columbia School of Journalism Prof. Floyd Abrams, Harvard Law School Prof. Alan Dershowitz and Gerald Gunther of Stanford Law School.
The scholars disagreed with Reno’s assertion last October that bills offered in the Senate by Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) David Durenberger (R-Minn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) pass constitutional muster.
D.C. insiders were predicting the impact of the letter may be negligible, given the anti-violence frenzy sweeping Washington.
Nevertheless, the letter signals that the networks have gained a few allies in what up to now has been a mostly one-sided debate.