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New ABA book celebrates the 50-year legacy of free speech after Times v. Sullivan

New ABA book celebrates the 50-year legacy of free speech after Times v. Sullivan

By John Glynn

CHICAGO, March 10, 2014 — Every journalist and First Amendment enthusiast appreciates the significance of the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. What they likely are not aware of is the late Associate Justice William J. Brennan’s struggle to persuade a unanimous court to embrace the First Amendment doctrine that he announced in that landmark decision and his decades-long fight to nurture and protect its legacy.

A new book from the American Bar Association tells this story in an extraordinary fashion based on interviews with the late justice, his historical papers and the line of court cases themselves. “The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan” provides both an insider’s historical look at the crafting of U.S. law interpreting the First Amendment and a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the country’s highest court.

Told largely from Brennan’s perspective and based on his previously unreported papers and interviews with his biographer Stephen Wermiel, “The Progeny” provides an authoritative historical account of how this important body of constitutional law has developed over the past 50 years. Wermiel and co-author Lee Levine explore in great detail the collegial and sometimes contentious exchanges between justices of the Supreme Court as well as the line of 31 cases that deal with defamation and privacy aspects of First Amendment law decided since Sullivan was announced on March 9, 1964.

The 473-page volume offers fresh insights with respect to both what the law means and the process by which it was formulated over decades. Through the justice’s papers and court records, “The Progeny” also offers a unique window into the deliberations of Brennan and his colleagues during his 34 years on the high court through the line of cases stemming from Times v. Sullivan. This line includes such well-known cases as Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., Hustler Magazine v. Falwell and Herbert v. Lando. This book should be considered a must-read for Supreme Court watchers and all those interested in the First Amendment, including journalists, constitutional scholars, fans of legal history and young lawyers aspiring to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

Levine, a partner in the D.C. firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP, has represented media clients in libel, invasion of privacy, copyright and related First Amendment cases for more than 30 years. In the U.S. Supreme Court, he argued Harte-Hanks Communications Inc. v. Connaughton on behalf of the newspaper defendant and Bartnicki v. Vopper on behalf of the media defendants. Levine is also an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he has taught media law since 1989.

Wermiel is a professor of practice in constitutional law and associate director of the Summer Institute on Law and Government at American University Washington College of Law. He is a past chair of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities and author of a biweekly column on aimed at explaining the Supreme Court to law students. Co-author of “Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion,” an approved biography of the late justice, Wermiel covered the high court for the Wall Street Journal from 1979 until 1991.

 Title:                            “The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan”
Publisher:                    ABA Publishing
Pages:                          473
Product Code:                         5550031
ISBN:                           978-1-62722-449-9
Size:                            6x9
Binding:                      Hardcover with dust-jacket
Price:                           $39.95
Orders:                        Order the book at or call 800-285-2221.


What others are saying about “The Progeny”

“This is an extraordinary chronicle of how Justice William J. Brennan fought to remake and sustain libel and defamation law. Any devotee of the First Amendment will find it shines new light on this subject in unexpected ways.” — Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent, National Public Radio

“For anyone with any interest in the Supreme Court, the First Amendment, or libel law — or all of them — ‘The Progeny’ is an intellectual treasure chest. Based on papers of members of the Supreme Court and drafts of their opinions, many never before disclosed, the book offers a more revealing and fascinating depiction of the development of constitutionalized American libel law from New York Times v. Sullivan onward than has yet been offered anywhere.” — Floyd Abrams, legendary First Amendment lawyer

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan, it’s tempting to assume that this great First Amendment decision’s endurance was foreordained. But this essential new book proves otherwise and shows how Justice William Brennan fought and won a decades-long fight for the survival of the precedent and the First Amendment as we know it. There will never be a more authoritative account of an inside-the-Supreme Court battle over first principles.” — Linda Greenhouse, former New York Times Supreme Court reporter, Pulitzer Prize recipient and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School


Editor’s note: Author interviews and review copies are available by sending an email to Amanda Wilander at If you publish a review of this book, please send tear sheets or a copy for our files to Amanda Wilander. c/o ABA Publishing, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews.

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