Donald Alexander Downs
In 1977, a Chicago-based Nazi group announced its plans to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors. The shocked survivor community rose in protest and the issue went to court, with the ACLU defending the Nazis’ right to free speech. The court ruled in the Nazis’ favor. According to the “content neutrality doctrine” governing First Amendment jurisprudence, the Nazis’ insults and villifications were “neutral”—not the issue, as far as the law was concerned.
But to Downs, they are at issue. In Nazis in Skokie he challenges the doctrine of “content neutrality” and presents an argument for the minimal abridgment of free speech when that speech in intentionally harmful. Drawing on his interviews with participants in the conflict, Downs combines detailed social history with informed legal interpretation in a provocative examination of an abiding tension between individual freedom and community integrity, and between procedural and substantive justice.
“Mr. Downs raises points civil libertarians must consider; his book is comprehensive, knowledgeable, fair and readable.” — New York Times Book Review
“Downs . . . presents a political, constitutional, philosophical, psychological, and sociological examination of the First Amendment issues involved in the Skokie incident. This case study of assaultive speech is profound, yet simply and clearly written. Highly recommended.” — Choice
“Downs has given us a thoughtful, solid work that is informed by a sense of constitutional law, by a feeling for the people involved, and by an appreciation of history as living conscience.” — American Bar Foundation Research Journal