Leads NSF-Funded Study of Global Free Speech
M. Keck, Michael O. Sawyer Chair of Constitutional Law and Politics, will spend
the next three years studying who benefits from court decisions enforcing constitutional
free speech norms around the globe. Over the summer, Keck was awarded a grant
of more than $400,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to lead a
large-scale effort to identify, locate, and gather data on a compendium of
cases that help to establish precedent in the arena of free expression.
speech is enshrined in the founding documents of more than 180 countries around
the world, says Keck, a leading authority on the U.S. Supreme Court and its
impacts on social change and policy. However, he adds, law scholars are divided
over whether courts tend to defend the free speech rights of minority groups or
if they bolster the existing powerful majorities. Through the NSF’s Division of
Social and Economic Sciences, Keck’s project — titled “Comparative Free Speech
Jurisprudence” — will assemble a documentary data collection of relevant court
cases that will be useful to future scholars, courts, and policymakers working
on the issue of free speech for many years to come. Keck asserts that it will
also serve to test existing theories regarding the political impact of judicial
power on a broader scale.
project will eventually encompass decisions from more than two dozen national
high courts, including several that have not been widely studied in the U.S., including the Supreme
Courts of Norway and Costa Rica. Co-investigators on this project include Erik
Bleich of Middlebury College; Richard Price, Weber State University; and
Stephan Stohler, University at Albany’s Rockefeller College for Public Affairs.
Because the research will include analysis of thousands of court cases in more
than 15 different languages, it requires collaboration across linguistic and
cultural divides. Additional collaborators on the project, Keck says, represent the
University of Central
Florida, Willamette University, Seoul National University, the University of
Windsor, the University of Melbourne, VU-Amsterdam, the University of Göttingen, and the University of Oslo.
date, the project has employed two PhD students, one MA student, and seven
undergraduate students at the Maxwell School. With NSF funding in hand, the
team will soon include student research assistants at several of the
collaborating institutions as well.
results of this project will help to illuminate the real-world impact of how
law and democratic constitutionalism affect freedom of expression on a
worldwide scale. “This project would not be possible — at least not in anything
resembling its current form — without the support of funders like NSF,” Keck says.
“No existing academic department in the U.S. has the necessary expertise to do
this on its own, but NSF funding enables a multi-site collaborative effort.”
The grant is expected to run through July 2018. 10/07/15