The Right for Free Flow of Information

Freedom of " 'expression on public issues "has always rested on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values." (FCC v. League of Women Voters of California (1984) 468 U.S. 364, 381, 82 L. Ed. 2d 278, 104 S. Ct. 3106.) As stated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) 376 U.S. 254, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 84 S. Ct. 710, "the general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard . . . 'was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people." (Id. at p. 269.) And, it represents a "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open . . . ." (Id. at p. 270.) It follows that "under the free speech guaranty the validity and truth of declarations in political disputes over issues of public interest must be resolved by the public and not by a judge." (Leonardini v. Shell Oil Co., supra, 216 Cal. App. 3d at p. 579, fn. 10.) "In the context of . . . public debate on a matter of public interest, the truth of the statement is irrelevant." (Leonardini, 216 Cal. App. 3d at p. 577; see also Wilson v. Superior Court (1975) 13 Cal. 3d 652, 659, 119 Cal. Rptr. 468, 532 P.2d 116; O'Connor v. Superior Court (1986) 177 Cal. App. 3d 1013, 1019, 223 Cal. Rptr. 357.) In the famous words of Judge Learned Hand, the First Amendment "presupposes that right conclusions are more likely to be gathered out of a multitude of tongues, than through any kind of authoritative selection. to many this is, and always will be, folly; but we have staked upon it our all." (United States v. Associated Press (S.D. N.Y. 1943) 52 F. Supp. 362, 372; see also New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, 376 U.S. at p. 270, 84 S. Ct. 710.) By protecting the public's access to "diverse and antagonistic sources" (Associated Press v. United States (1945) 326 U.S. 1, 20, 89 L. Ed. 2013, 65 S. Ct. 1416), the First Amendment serves an "informational purpose" (First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, supra, 435 U.S. at p. 782, fn. 18), guaranteeing "the public access to discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas." (Bellotti, 435 U.S. at p. 783, fn. omitted; see also Bellotti, 435 U.S. at p. 777, fn. 12.) The citizen enjoys this right of access to the free flow of information and ideas both for purposes of political decisionmaking in a democracy--the traditional "core" of the First Amendment 6 --and for private decisions significant to the conduct of life. In Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro (1977) 431 U.S. 85, 52 L. Ed. 2d 155, 97 S. Ct. 1614, the court struck down a local ordinance banning "for sale" signs in front of residences, which was intended to dampen home sales motivated by racial fears. The First Amendment, the court held, prohibits any attempt to regulate the information available for the important personal choice of purchasing or selling a home. "That information, which pertains to sales activity in Willingboro, is of vital interest to Willingboro residents, since it may bear on one of the most important decisions they have a right to make: where to live and raise their families." (Id. at p. 96.)