This is the twelfth in a series of interviews I’m conducting with lawyers and scholars who’ve made a mark on freedom of expression. Follow me @jonathanwpeters on Twitter.
For the past 27 years, William Bennett Turner has taught First Amendment courses at the University of California at Berkeley. In a legal career that spanned 45 years, he argued three cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including two in the First Amendment area: Procunier v. Martinez, which invalidated regulations that allowed sweeping censorship of inmate mail in the California prison system, and Houchins v. KQED, which said the First Amendment does not guarantee the press a right of access to jails greater than that of other people. Turner also argued more than 40 cases in lower appellate courts and served as lead counsel in a variety of state and federal trials. He has published dozens of articles in newspapers and magazines, and he was the legal affairs correspondent for KQED. Turner is the author of “Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains.”
What’s the most serious threat today to free expression?
Ignorance—the indifference to how and why we protect civil liberties. The public is not well informed about why we protect free speech, and lawmakers, if not well informed, are not paying attention and are willing to sacrifice free speech principles for political purposes.