BILL TURNER: 'FIGURES OF SPEECH'
San Francisco Chronicle
March 17, 2011
by Louis Peitzman
(link to article)
Bill Turner has a stronger handle on the First Amendment than most: For the past 25 years, he has taught a class on the First Amendment and the press at UC Berkeley while also working as a lawyer, twice arguing First Amendment cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now, Turner has written "Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains," which features profiles of men and women involved in significant First Amendment cases.
"By telling stories of the individuals who have been involved in important First Amendment controversies, (I hope) to make accessible to everyone the sources of our freedoms, their limits and how fragile they are," Turner says.
With "Figures of Speech," Turner attempts to enlighten those with only a vague conception of their rights. There are people, Turner says, who think the First Amendment protects them more than it does. In his book, Turner outlines what "freedom of speech" actually means; for all the college students crying "censorship" at Facebook's allegedly unconstitutional policies, Turner recommends some fact-checking.
In "Figures of Speech," Turner chooses from a variety of important individuals, both well-known to the average reader - for example, Hustler founder Larry Flynt - and the less mainstream - such as Yetta Stromberg, who was convicted in 1929 of displaying a red flag at a children's summer camp, which was illegal. Her case, Turner says, "was the first in U.S. history in which the Supreme Court struck down a law on First Amendment grounds."
In deciding which figures to profile, Turner opted for many with whom he was directly connected.
"Most of the figures were involved in cases that I handled," he says, "and to that extent the book is a memoir. The others had compelling stories and their cases established really important First Amendment principles."
There are those whom Turner wasn't able to include either because there was no room or they became prominent after he'd finished writing.
"Both Julian Assange and the Westboro Baptist Church folks arrived too late for the book," he says. "Maybe there will have to be a sequel: 'Son of Figures of Speech.' "
Sequel or not, the book is an important reference on the First Amendment. Turner says he considers the public's knowledge of its rights more vital than ever.
People "need help understanding that you can't give the government the benefit of the doubt when it asserts that some competing social value requires restriction of certain kinds of speech," he says. "Doing so will erode our freedoms."
7:30 p.m. Fri. Mrs. Dalloway's, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley. (510) 704-8222. www.mrsdalloways.com.