Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version



Williams, J. 2021. Self-determination in American discourse: The supreme court’s historical indoctrination of free speech and expression. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Jarred Williams 2021.


Within the American criminal legal system, it is a well-established practice to presume the innocence of those charged with criminal offenses unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a judicial framework-like approach, called a legal maxim, is utilized in order to ensure that the law is applied and interpreted in ways that legislative bodies originally intended.

The central aim of this piece in relation to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is to investigate whether the Supreme Court of the United States has utilized a specific legal maxim within cases that dispute government speech or expression regulation. Specifically, this research addresses the following central question: Has the Supreme Court of the United States, within certain notable cases that dispute the regulation of speech or expression, employed a legal maxim which grants initial preference or leverage to the First Amendment’s interest in protecting and preserving it over the State’s interest in regulating it?

To answer this question, I will first briefly overview the tests and reasoning employed by the Court’s majority within certain landmark cases under six major subcategories of speech or expression. Then, if applicable, I will identify the existence of such a legal maxim within. Lastly, I will address the implications of employing such a judicial framework to these disputes.

My findings confirm the Court’s general utilization of this legal maxim. My analyses show that within the simple majority of the highlighted cases below, the Court has, in practice, employed a technical approach which gives an initial preference of interest to the Constitution’s protection of speech and expression over the State’s interest in regulation.