This April, Laura Brill ’83 discussed the First Amendment with Upper and Middle School students during the third “Spence Perspectives” assembly featuring alumnae this year.
Brill, whose talk was titled “Permission, Persuasion and Protest: A 21st Century Student’s Guide to the First Amendment,” is a founding partner of the litigation and appellate boutique Kendall Brill & Kelly LLP in Los Angeles and previously served as a law clerk to the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Brill’s practice focuses on media, entertainment, complex commercial and regulatory disputes, as well as constitutional litigation and appeals.
Brill spoke to students about several events where individuals’ rights to free speech and assembly were protected by the Constitution, such as the Women’s March, student protests of the Vietnam War in 1965, Westboro Baptist Church military funeral protests, the Charlottesville rally, and speeches by Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland, FL, mass school shooting.
Brill encouraged students to think about different ways to respond to speech that they disagree with. She talked about how one military family tried to sue Westboro Baptist Church for holding offensive signs at their son’s funeral and how the Supreme Court ruled that the protesters’ speech was protected. However, in 2016, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater led an effort to protect those grieving at funerals following the Pulse nightclub mass shooting by showing up in angel costumes, blocking the view of Westboro Baptist protesters.
“This is one way,” Brill said. “When you don’t react immediately, but you take the time to think about what you want to say and how you want to be in the world and what kind of message you want to convey, this is a kind of creative expression that you can come up with.”
Brill discussed what the framers of the Constitution sought to address; namely, they wanted individuals to be able to say what they wanted without the worry of being arrested. The framers wanted to limit the government’s ability to interfere with people’s rights related to speech, the press, peaceful assemblies and petitions of the government for redress of grievances.
In the Q&A portion of the assembly, Brill answered students’ questions about hate speech, President Donald Trump’s tweeting habits, “Pizzagate,” false speech and harassment.
One student asked a question related to the recent trend in universities and university groups rescinding invitations to controversial speakers following backlash.
“It can be very interesting to listen to people who disagree with you if they’re there in good faith,” Brill said. “If they’re there to be outrageous and to cause a fuss, maybe you don’t want to go, and maybe you want to plan something separate and not put yourself through that. On the other hand, to not go to something that you think you might disagree with…you know, you might learn something. When you get to college, you’re there to learn. Pay attention to the fact that you’re offended and respond but think twice about cutting yourself off from it.”