Professor Joseph Adelman among a Group of Distinguished Historians who file an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Major First Amendment Case

Professor Joseph Adelman among a Group of Distinguished Historians who file an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Major First Amendment Case

Dec 8, 2023

A group of noted historians that include Framingham State History Professor Joseph M. Adelman filed an Amicus Brief to the United States Supreme Court on December 7th related to two cases coming before the court with First Amendment implications.

The cases - NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton and Moody v. NetChoice, LLC - weigh in on the constitutionality of controversial laws in Texas and Florida that would regulate how large social media companies like Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter) control content posted on their sites. The laws were enacted in 2021 in response to legislators' beliefs that the companies were censoring their users, particularly those with conservative views; the companies contend that the laws violate their First Amendment rights.

Both of these laws violate the First Amendment, according to Dr. Adelman, who is the author of Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789. He says the argument put forth by the historians goes into deep background of freedom of the press/speech at the founding moment.

"We're arguing that the practices of the eighteenth century, as enshrined in the First Amendment, protected the press from precisely this sort of government interference," says Adelman. "That is, the understanding of the founding generation was that freedom of the press granted to operators of the press the freedom to exercise editorial discretion about what content would and would not appear in their publications."

The Texas and Florida legislatures passed the laws at the center of the disputes in 2021. The Texas law, known as H.B. 20, bars social-media platforms with at least 50 million active users from blocking, removing, or "demonetizing" content based on the users' views. The Florida law, known as S.B. 7072 or the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, prohibits social-media companies from banning political candidates and "journalistic enterprises."

The Amicus Brief argues that in 1791 printers were widely understood to be central to, or even synonymous with, "the press" and therefore granted editorial discretion under the First Amendment.

"Printers would select which material to publish (and which not to publish), based on a variety of motivations: a desire to serve the public, to avoid harming individuals or their reputations, to reap economic gain, or to serve a favored political cause," the historians wrote. "But whatever the motivation, editorial discretion (and the right to exclude content) was an integral part of the trade."

Dr. Adelman earned his bachelor's degree in history from Harvard University and a master's and Ph.D. in history from the Johns Hopkins University. He has presented and published broadly, including in the journals Enterprise & Society and Early American Studies,, the Washington Post, and as a blogger at the Junto. In 2019, Adelman was elected as a Member of the American Antiquarian Society.

He currently serves as an Associate Editor with The New England Quarterly, and formerly worked with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture on its digital initiatives, the Ben Franklin's World podcast, and the Across America, 1776 project.

The other scholars who joined Dr. Adelman in filing the Amicus Brief are:

  • Carl Robert Keyes, Ph.D., Professor of History, at Assumption University;
  • Robert Parkinson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at Binghamton University;
  • Jeffrey L. Pasley, Ph.D., Professor of History, University of Missouri;
  • Sheila L. Skemp, Ph.D., Clare Leslie Marquette Professor of American History at the University of Mississippi;
  • Jeffery Smith, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and
  • David Waldstreicher, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.


About Framingham State University

Framingham State University was founded in 1839 as the nation’s first public university for the education of teachers. Since that time, it has evolved into a vibrant, comprehensive liberal arts institution offering small, personalized classes on a beautiful New England campus. Today, the University enrolls more than 6,000 students with 58 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences and professional fields. As a State College and University (SCU), Framingham State prides itself on quality academic programs, affordability, and commitment to access for all qualified students.