Floyd Abrams

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Floyd Abrams
Floyd Abrams by David Shankbone.jpg
Floyd Abrams in 2006.
Born (1936-07-09) July 9, 1936 (age 80)
Nationality American
Alma mater Cornell University
Yale Law School
Occupation Attorney
Employer Cahill Gordon & Reindel
Known for Several First Amendment cases
Spouse(s) Efrat
Children 2

Floyd Abrams (born July 9, 1936) is an American attorney at Cahill Gordon & Reindel. He is an expert on constitutional law, and many arguments in the briefs he has written before the United States Supreme Court have been adopted as United States Constitutional interpretative law as it relates to the First Amendment and free speech. He is the William J. Brennan Jr. Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Abrams argued for The New York Times and Judith Miller in the CIA leak grand jury investigation. Abrams joined Cahill Gordon & Reindel in 1963 and became a partner in 1970.


Abrams earned his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1956, and his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1960. He lives in New York City with wife Efrat. Together they have a son, Dan Abrams of ABC, and a daughter, Judge Ronnie Abrams of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. He is a member of the Constitution Project's Liberty and Security Committee[1] and a patron of the Media Legal Defence Initiative.

Early career and legal scholarship[edit]

From 1961 to 1963, Abrams clerked for Judge Paul Leahy of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. He returned to Yale as a visiting lecturer from 1974 to 1980 and again from 1986 to 1989.[2][3] He was also a Visiting Lecturer at Columbia Law School from 1981 to 1985.[2]

Important First Amendment cases[edit]

Abrams appearance before the Supreme Court as an advocate of the First Amendment has put him in a class of prominent and still-working legal scholars who have shaped American understanding of their fundamental rights under the United States Constitution. In his 2005 book Speaking Freely, he outlines his knowledge of and perspective on these influential cases (listed in the main article above). Abrams said these cases showcase the work that has been done on free speech in the United States.[4] Fellow Supreme Court attorney Lee Levine, in a book review, wrote that "the modern history of the freedom of the press in this country is intimately associated with the career and work of Floyd Abrams." His career matured in the late 1960s, right after the Supreme Court decided New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). He has worked on the Pentagon Papers and Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), to Landmark Communications v. Virginia (1978) and Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co. (1979), to Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976). He has defended numerous clients, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art from Rudolph Giuliani over the Sensation exhibition, NBC from Wayne Newton, and Al Franken from a trademark lawsuit brought by Fox News Channel over the use of the phrase "Fair and Balanced" in the title of his book.[5] He is currently representing five tobacco companies including R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Lorillard Tobacco in their lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration over graphic warning labels on cigarette packs,[6] contending that requiring graphic warning labels on a lawful product cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.[7] The Association of National Advertisers and the American Advertising Federation have also filed a brief in the suit.[8] In August 2012, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld a lower court ruling that the federal government's warning labels violated the First Amendment.[9] He also led a successful challenge to a New York City Board of Health regulation that required retailers at "points of sale" to display graphics on the hazards of tobacco use.[10] His views on the First Amendment are profiled in Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams & the First Amendment (Carolina Academic Press, 2013) by Ronald K.L. Collins



In a column on Slate entitled Memo to Cooper and Miller: Fire Floyd Abrams. Hire Bruce Sanford, Jack Shafer felt Abrams's First Amendment argument was weaker than others' on behalf of the reporters in the Valerie Plame affair. In the majority opinion, Judge Sentelle found Abrams' assertion that a First Amendment privilege protects Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller from the subpoena to lack merit. They ordered both reporters to talk to the grand jury about their confidential sources or face jail for contempt, which Miller ultimately did. "Maybe a First Amendment legend isn't what this case called for in the first place," said Shafer. "Maybe Cooper and Miller would have been better served by having a criminal lawyer who knows how to bargain." Shafer thought Abrams' expertise was not adequately enough suited for the subject matter: "...my guess is that they won't [agree to hear the case] if it's argued on First Amendment grounds, preferring to let their Branzburg precedent stand."[12]

Quotes by Abrams[edit]

  • "I really believe that a lawyer - no matter how good - if he or she is really worth their weight in salt, they will lose some cases because, after all, it is not really one of those secretive things that not everything is decided by who your lawyer is."[13]
  • "In August 1967 I spent a few days in New Delhi, visiting a friend who had been a law school classmate seven years earlier. She was a princess—a genuine one, from a still-powerful regal family. In New York City, when we were studying together, I had taken her to a Yankee game. In New Delhi she reciprocated by taking me to her fortune-teller—not just hers, but that of a bevy of Indian leaders, including former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter and successor as prime minister, Indira Gandhi.... Before I was thirty-five, he said, I would go to my country's capital to work on something that was important. The work, he said, would make me famous. It was not the sort of prediction that one entirely forgets. I was then thirty-one."[14]
  • "I then described two of my favorite First Amendment cases, the first of which was the 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Mills v. Alabama.... The other case was commenced by a Miami labor leader, Pat Tornillo, who was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives. The Miami Herald had published editorials criticizing Tornillo; the union leader had responded by demanding that the Herald publish, verbatim, replies he had written to each editorial."[15]

Quotes about Abrams[edit]

  • "Ask someone to name a First Amendment lawyer. If they answer, one-hundred percent of the time the answer will be the same: Floyd Abrams. Then ask them to name another such lawyer. The answer: silence. It is a sign of the times that the name Floyd Abrams is synonymous with the First Amendment in a way that virtually no other name is." First Amendment Center.[16]
  • "[Floyd Abrams is the] most significant First Amendment lawyer of our age." Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.[17]

Selected writings[edit]

Book reviews for Speaking Freely[edit]

  • "Most illuminating are Abrams's detailed explanations of the legal and psychological tactics he has used before the Supreme Court.... Abrams rarely steps back from his courtroom reconstructions to make a more comprehensive argument for his nearly absolutist reading of the First Amendment. Only in describing his fight against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law does Abrams reason more broadly, and his powerful argument makes a reader wish the whole book had been more expansive." Publishers Weekly.[18]
  • "Unfortunately, Abrams is far more fair-minded where the argument against a free-speech claim is weak than he is where it's compelling.... This is a serious flaw, and not just because it doesn't do justice to a complicated issue [like campaign finance reform].... It isn't too much, however, to expect as straightforward an account of the McCain-Feingold case as Abrams offers of other cases in the book. In general, his charming, engaging and often compelling book would have been stronger if he at any point revealed any real intellectual or emotional distance from a client's litigating position. Not all First Amendment claims are created equal." Benjamin Wittes, The Washington Post's Book World.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Members". constitutionproject.com. Archived from the original on April 27, 2009. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP: Profile & Biography". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  3. ^ "Floyd Abrams delivers annual Salant Lecture - Shorenstein Center". Shorenstein Center. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  4. ^ Floyd Abrams, Speaking Freely (2005)
  5. ^ Lee Levine. Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment, via FirstAmendmentCenter.org
  6. ^ "US cigarette makers sue over graphic warning labels". BBC News. 17 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Bachman, Katy (2011-08-18). "Big Tobacco Gets Top First Amendment Lawyer for New Suit". Adweek. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  8. ^ "Tobacco Cos. Get Allies in Warning Label Fight - Tobacco - Convenience Store News". Csnews.com. 2011-09-19. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  9. ^ Bachman, Katy (2012-08-24). "Court Upholds Block on Fed's Cigarette Warning Labels". Adweek. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  10. ^ "07-11-12 United States Court of Appeals" (PDF). nylj. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Jack Schafer, Memo to Cooper and Miller: Fire Floyd Abrams. Hire Bruce Sanford., February 15, 2005, Slate.com.
  13. ^ "Floyd Abrams quotes at BrainyQuote.com". brainyquote.com. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  14. ^ Floyd Abrams, Speaking Freely, Page 1 (2005)
  15. ^ Speaking Freely, Pages 232-33.
  16. ^ Mr. First Amendment -- Forthcoming Book By Floyd Abrams, via FirstAmendmentCenter.org
  17. ^ Amazon.com
  18. ^ Amazon.com Page for Speaking Freely.
  19. ^ Amazon.com

External links[edit]