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Erin Miller
Erin Miller

University of Southern California, Gould Law School

Quasi-State Action in First Amendment Theory


In this talk, Erin Miller will challenge the First Amendment orthodoxy that speech rights bind only the state. She will argue that the primary justification for the freedom of speech is to protect interests like autonomy, democracy, and knowledge from the kind of extraordinary power available to the state. If so, it applies with nearly equal force to any private agents with power over speech rivaling that of the state. Such a class of private agents, which she calls quasi-state agents, turns out to be a live possibility once we recognize that state power is more limited than it seems and can be broken down into multiple, equally threatening parts. They might include, for example, the largest social media platforms and powerful private employers. However, because quasi-state agents are not exactly like state agents, but pursue important private aims that the state cannot, Miller argues that the First Amendment might bind them slightly differently than it does the state. Drawing on seldom-discussed American constitutional law and comparative constitutional law, she offers several analytical models for understanding this differential application.


Erin Miller's research focuses on theories of speech and free speech rights, and especially their application to mass media. She also writes on issues of moral and criminal responsibility. Her teaching areas include First Amendment theory and criminal procedure. She holds a BA in philosophy and political science from Yale University, a JD from Yale Law School and a PhD in political theory from Princeton University. Prior to joining the USC Gould faculty, she was a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School.

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