Sawyer Law and Politics Program: Erik Bleich
341 Eggers Hall
Contemporary liberal democracies face a difficult challenge when drawing the line between protecting free speech and punishing hate speech. Nowhere is this truer than in France, where laws have assumed an acute significance in the wake of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher massacres. This paper offers a unique perspective on how France handles hate speech by drawing on evidence from an original dataset comprising every decision taken by the French Court of Cassation regarding racist hate speech between passage of its foundational 1972 antiracism law and the end of 2012. The data demonstrate that the high court is much more likely to side with restricting allegedly racist speech when it targets prototypical minority groups than when it targets majority groups such as Catholics, Christians, whites, and “French.” To understand why, I apply a theoretically-oriented, mixed-method approach that uses both cross-case correlational analysis and within-case process tracing analysis. This project contributes to an understanding of hate speech rulings in France, of hate speech adjudication beyond France, and to the judicial behavior literature more broadly.
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