Thursday, Apr 24, 2014 11:20 pm est

Healy discusses ‘Great Dissent,’ free speech case

Posted on December 3, 2013 | by Larson Binzer



Seton Hall law professor Thomas Healy discussed his book “The Great Dissent” with a small crowd in the NYU Journalism Institute on Dec. 2.

The book tells the story of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), in which he wrote against the majority opinion that confirmed the constitutionality of the Espionage Act.

Journalism professor Stephen Solomon asked Healy to speak at NYU after reading his book when it was released in August. Solomon also assigned the book as homework for his First Amendment honors seminar.

“[Students should read this book] because Justice Holmes wrote an opinion that put forth the first modern interpretation of the First Amendment,” Solomon said. “So it was a major departure from what had come in the past.”

Healy gave a brief background of the book and explained how Holmes transformed from someone disagreeing with a broad interpretation of freedom of speech into one of free speech’s key advocates and initiators.

Healy said this change of mind resulted from young, prominent men lobbying for free speech at the time. He also stated Holmes was angry that his friend was punished for speaking freely about the Boston Police Strike, which Holmes’ friend said was the police commissioner’s fault.

“Holmes’ opinion marked not just a personal transformation, but the start of a national transformation,” Healy said in a phone interview before the event.

“It’s important to understand that we have the free speech rights we have today as a result of struggle and as a result of the efforts that people made to help us understand the value of free speech,” Healy added.

During the question-and-answer session after the lecture, a student asked if Healy thought Holmes would have been recognized as one of the greatest judges in American history had he not written that dissent.

“I think it’s possible he would be remembered kind of negatively [had he not written the dissent] as a judge who basically always deferred to the majority,” Healy said.

Healy also elaborated on Holmes’ past and how he uncovered the information abou the Supreme Court justice.

CAS freshman Sean McCready, who is enrolled in Solomon’s seminar, said the discussion expanded on what Healy had talked about in his previous visit to the class.

“The [question and answer] really gave a lot more insight into his opinions of what the case meant and what Holmes’ general opinion on free speech meant,” McCready said.

While the book could also pertain to the political sphere, Solomon said it is especially important to journalism students because it shows the origins of their freedom of speech rights in terms of court cases.

“Here, we’re journalists, and what the book is about is the great decision about the history of freedom of the press,” Solomon said.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 3 print edition. Larson Binzer is a staff writer. Email her at



profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.