WASHINGTON -- It began with the proliferation of campus "speech codes" ostensibly designed to promote civility but frequently used to enforce political conformity. The new censorship accelerated with the McCain-Feingold legislation that licenses government regulation of the quantity, timing and content of speech in political campaigns.
Now the attack on First Amendment speech protections has taken an audacious new turn, illustrated by a case being pondered by a Texas judge. He is being asked to collaborate in the suppression of a book, and even of expressions of approval of the book.
The book arises from an abuse of the power of eminent domain by the city of Freeport, Texas, but the story really begins in Connecticut. There, in 2000, New London's city government condemned the property of middle-class homeowners in an unblighted neighborhood for the purpose of getting the property into the hands of commercial interests that would pay more taxes. In 2005, in the Kelo case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, 5-4, New London's rapaciousness as a constitutional taking of property for what the Fifth Amendment calls a "public use." Rapacious people around the country salivated.
When Kelo was decided, H. Walker Royall, a Dallas developer, already had designs on some property that for more than a decade has belonged to the Gore family shrimping business in coastal Freeport. In 2003, Royall signed an agreement with that city's government to build a yacht marina, hotel and condominiums using property the city would seize by eminent domain.
The day after the Supreme Court made its Kelo mistake, Freeport intensified its pressure against the Gores, whose stout resistance caught the gimlet eye of Carla Main. An experienced journalist (former associate editor of The National Law Journal, she has written for The Wall Street Journal, National Review and numerous other publications), Main has recounted the case in her book "Bulldozed: 'Kelo,' Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land." Her thesis is that many "takings" of property for economic development are taking a terrible toll on the rights of everyday Americans.
In October 2008, Royall sued Main and her publisher (Encounter Books), seeking monetary damages and a ban on further production and distribution of the book. He also sued the Galveston newspaper that reviewed the book and the reviewer. A judge dismissed, on jurisdictional grounds, Royall's suit against Richard Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago and New York University, whose offense was a dust-jacket endorsement of the book as a report on an "unholy alliance" between government and a private interest.