The First Amendment Center has published an interesting post discussing important solitary dissents in the history of First Amendment law. Among their selections are Justice Harlan Stone’s dissent in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, arguing that public school students could not be required to salute the flag or recite the pledge of allegiance. Although Stone lost that battle, he ultimately won the war—his view became the law of the land just three years later in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, which reversed Gobitis.
Absent from the list, though no less noteworthy, is Justice Clarence Thomas’ solo dissent in Citizens United v. FEC. Although that case produced a well-known 5-4 split on whether corporations and unions should be permitted to fund political advocacy, it also produced an 8-1 split on whether the group Citizens United could be forced to disclose the identities of those who funded its political speech. Justice Thomas alone dissented, arguing forcefully that “Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information.’” It remains to be seen whether Thomas’ view of anonymous speech will ultimately prevail, but IJ is not alone in hoping that it will and fighting to make that happen.
For more on Justice Thomas’ arguments in support of anonymous speech, check out this short video featuring Cato Institute scholar Nat Hentoff: