FALL 2000 ISSUE

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Ed Baker's drive to change the world began early. In high school in the 1960s, as a representative to an Episcopal youth convention, he argued that all full members of the church should have a right to vote - thus, lowering the voting age. Also, he persuaded his peers to accept proposals to promote racial integration and equality for women in the church.

"It was possibly one of the most dramatic political speeches I ever gave," Baker recalls. In the context of his hometown of segregated Madisonville, Kentucky, Baker says, his parents were "the town's liberal intellectuals." Partly because his father was a quiet supporter of blacks and the black community, "issues around segregation were the first things I recognized as problems in this country," he notes.

Baker's early awareness of racism, and the example of his father's involvement in righting injustices on a personal level helped to shape Ed Baker's views on society and democracy today. In his college years, he engaged in the Civil Rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests. More recently he demonstrated against the Gulf War and applauded the efforts of last year's protesters during the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. While his activism has waned somewhat in favor of his scholarship and teaching career, he considers his writing his "most overt form of political effort," and believes his work still reflects the same notions of right and wrong that he learned as a youth.

"It's not like I'm constantly rebelling against all norms; in many ways I'm very conventional and conservative, I think. It's just that the norms that are relevant to write and think about, for me, are norms that need to be challenged. The point of scholarship, if not education generally, is to poke norms and prod them and critique them," he says.

Today Baker is a nationally known authority in constitutional law and mass media policy, holding the Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professorship at the University of Pennsylvania Law School since 1982. In some ways, he is a study in contrasts. From small town South, he now lives in Greenwich Village in the nation's most populous city. A passionate proponent of freedom of individual speech, he also believes that government ought to regulate certain aspects of media and social policy. He is a prolific author and teacher who took a mid-career break from academia to practice with the American Civil Liberties Union. His soft-spoken mannerly speech belies the weight of his words. Uniting all these aspects is the integrity of one who practices what he preaches.

The quality of integrity is what Baker, who earned his law degree at Yale in 1972, prized in his favorite professor there, Thomas Emerson. "Emerson was [then] the country's foremost First Amendment scholar," - not to mention one of its "leftist," Baker says - but more important, "His intellect was fully in service of the values he believed in. So many academics have good arguments but don't care about where things go."

Yet Baker stops short of calling Emerson a mentor. "To the extent I am following somebody on First Amendment scholarship," says Baker carefully, "Emerson is closer to my thinking than any other scholar." Baker's own seminal contribution to First Amendment scholarship is his book Human Liberty and Freedom of Speech (Oxford Press, 1989).