Former Federal Prosecutor Challenges Students to Define Free Speech

David Lat, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey, analyzed President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media from a legal perspective at Cornell on Tuesday evening, saying Trump could have a significant influence on how the public perceives the media but is unlikely to add legal restrictions to news outlets. Lat, who founded the legal commentary blog Above the Law, said the political climate in the last year has led to a wider range of views on what speech the First Amendment protects. The Yale Law School graduate, who was an assistant prosecutor in Newark before transitioning to writing, said Trump’s repeated derision of media as “fake news” is largely bluster. The president does not have the power to make direct, drastic changes to the First Amendment’s protections because the process of altering the Constitution is extremely slow and requires a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress or at a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of states. “It would be very difficult for Trump to do anything about the media and the First Amendment despite his obvious distaste for aspects of media,” Lat said.