First Amendment Free Speech

First Amendment and Free Speech

More than a Century of Protecting Expression

When the United States Supreme Court ruled in our clients' favor in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 131 S. Ct. 2653 (2011), it bestowed on an entire industry a hearty form of First Amendment protection. "[C]reation and dissemination of information are speech within the meaning of the First Amendment," the Court held. "Facts, after all, are the beginning point for much of the speech that is most essential to advance human knowledge and to conduct human affairs." In one sweep, this elevated what some critics pejoratively had referred to as the "data miner" to the status of journalist, novelist or poet. Knowledge discovery through computerized analysis of data is now fully protected speech, not just a mechanical process subject to extensive government control.

Hunton & Williams LLP's First Amendment lawyers represent not only data companies, but also newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, Internet companies and all types of speakers, including, on occasion, the lonely pamphleteer, blogger or website operator. We work with clients who wish to challenge orders, laws and regulations that would keep them quiet or deny them access to information they need to make a point or make a buck. We also defend publishers against libel, slander and invasion of privacy claims that threaten to stifle their ability to report the news of the day.

For more than 100 years we have advocated for free expression, and have achieved precedent-setting decisions. The earliest example is Butler v. News-Leader, 51 S.E. 213 (1905), our victory in the Virginia Supreme Court over a libel claim by famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The newspaper defendant, like many others across the country, had indeed published a false allegation about Ms. Oakley. Ms. Oakley won or settled 54 lawsuits, but Hunton & Williams' then-innovative argument that reliance on a wire service defeats a libel claim resulted in "Little Miss Sure Shot's" sole loss.

With more and more companies branching out from traditional websites toward the use of social media platforms such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, we help clients manage and limit their potential exposure to legal action. We also work with our clients to navigate the constantly changing landscape of state and federal regulation. Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce and other governmental agencies at both the state and federal levels are paying closer attention to perceived privacy abuses on the Internet. Regulatory efforts are not always coordinated, making compliance difficult and causing unjustified restrictions of First Amendment rights. With our deep understanding of the issues and our experience with the various regulatory agencies, we help clients determine an effective course of action.

Our lawyers provide knowledgeable, strategic guidance and advice on a multitude of complex matters, including:

  • First Amendment rights
  • Behavioral and targeted marketing or advertising
  • Commercial speech
  • Libel and slander
  • Invasion of privacy arising by publication of private facts
  • Appropriation of names and likenesses
  • False light
  • Intrusion upon seclusion
  • Communications Decency Act
  • Interception of electronic communications
  • Reporters' privilege and subpoenas
  • Public meetings laws
  • Freedom of information and public records laws
  • Adult entertainment
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Political campaigns and protests
  • Lobbying
  • Campaign finance
  • Student press rights
  • Professional advertising