Visiting law professor’s lecture on free-speech rights draws big crowd

Alan Meese speaks to students in the Scripps Hall Auditorium. Meese’s talk was the year’s first in the George Washington Forum series. (Isaac Hale | Staff Photographer)

An Ohio University classroom overflowed Tuesday night with students, faculty and Athens residents as the George Washington Forum welcomed its first speaker of the year.

Alan Meese of the College of William and Mary gave a speech about the role of corporations in political campaigns, arguing that corporations have the same free speech and press rights as people.

Every seat in the Scripps Hall classroom was taken as 160 to 170 people attended, forcing people to sit on the floor while numerous others were left standing in the hallway.

Meese was selected because of his expertise on the topic of corporate free speech, said Robert Ingram, an associate professor in the history department and director of the forum.

“He is one of the foremost experts on corporate free speech,” Ingram said.
Meese is a former lawyer and currently a law professor. From July 1990 to late June 1991, he was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Meese said he does not normally give talks of this nature but decided to speak anyway.

“I was flattered by the invitation,” Meese said. “I wanted the opportunity to talk to this community.”    

Students in attendance were appreciative of the speech and the material it covered.    

“I think it is important because corporations are a part of our everyday life,” said Danielle Fultz, a senior studying French, history, and war and peace studies, who is one of the six George Washington fellows who helped organize the event. “I think it is important to be informed about what kind of power they have.”

The event was not paid for by the university or student funds. Two private foundations — the Charles Koch Foundation and the Apgar Foundation — fund the forum and, in turn, Meese’s speech, Ingram said.

The forum will have its next event in November. It will be a three-day conference about equality and public policy discussing what equality is and how to deal with it in public policy, Ingram said.  

There is another event planned for the spring with John Tomasi of Brown University, but a date has not been set, Ingram said.


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