Law School

Students study in front of the UGA School of Law.

According to the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019’s State of the First Amendment Survey revealed that 29% of 1,007 surveyed 1,007 surveyed Americans believe the First Amendment “went too far,” yet only 71% of adults can correctly name at least one of the rights given in the First Amendment and 21% cannot name any.

In defense of these rights, the University of Georgia School of Law is opening a First Amendment Clinic, funded by a $900,000 gift from the Stanton Foundation, which was founded by late television executive Frank Stanton.

Founded by Stanton, who served as president of CBS for 25 years, the Stanton Foundation works to support the First Amendment and develop a "better informed citizenry."

“We are grateful to the Stanton Foundation for partnering with us on this venture to protect the First Amendment and serve as leaders by operating a center of excellence relating to matters involving free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly and petition,” said UGA Law Dean Peter B. “Bo” Rutledge in an email.

The clinic will support First Amendment rights by focusing on regional cases concerning the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and petition, according to a UGA news release. The clinic will also serve as a resource for organizations, students, journalists and citizens advocating for First Amendment issues.

“We seek to provide our students with a first-rate legal education while connecting them with opportunities to serve state and society,” said Rutledge in the press release. “Importantly, it will provide our students with live client experiences as they learn to advocate for others in a supervised setting.”

UGA’s new program is joining other notable law clinics housed at universities such as Cornell, Vanderbilt, Harvard and Duke, the latter of which was also funded by the Stanton Foundation.

Sonja West, a First Amendment scholar at UGA, is fascinated by the rising trend of First Amendment clinics on law campuses.

“Through much of our nation's history, the key players defending our First Amendment rights have been newspapers, but as the industry has fallen into an economic crisis, [they] are increasingly less able to play this role,” West said. “Litigating First Amendment rights is expensive and is quickly becoming a luxury. This means there is a critical need for First Amendment advocacy.”

The clinic will serve as the law school’s 18th experiential learning opportunity.

“The creation of the First Amendment Clinic adds to the School of Law’s robust clinical and experiential learning opportunities and furthers our mission to educate the next generation of lawyers so they can become leaders in their communities,” Rutledge said in the press release.

The clinic is expected to open in fall 2020, and the university is holding a nationwide search for a director to begin in January.

The director will be responsible for “operationalizing” the clinic, teaching and supervising up to eight students and managing a law practice “consisting of all phases of First Amendment litigation brought on behalf of individuals or organizations,” according to the job posting reads.