There is an event that falls between Memorial Day and Independence Day that is not known to many in the United States but has left its mark on an important aspect of our laws and our fundamental freedoms. That day is Bloomsday.
The term “Bloomsday” is derived from Leopold Bloom, the main character of James Joyce’s masterwork, Ulysses, which chronicles his adventures over the course of one day in Dublin, Ireland – June 16, 1904. Although many are familiar with Ulysses and its groundbreaking impact on modernist literature, Ulysses is lesser known for its impact on First Amendment jurisprudence in the United States.
Ulysses was first the subject of a legal battle in 1922, when Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap were prosecuted for obscenity for printing serialized extracts of Ulysses in their publication, The Little Review. Well know Irish American lawyer, John Quinn, a friend of Joyce and Ezra Pound, defended the publishers pro bono and advised them that they were “damned fools” for trying to publish Ulysses in this “puritan-ridden country”! Anderson and Heap were found guilty and fined.
Years later, Ulysses found itself at the center of another legal case in the Southern District of New York, U.S v. One Book Called Ulysses. It faired better this time around. Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not pornographic and that the author’s use of stream of consciousness to expose the innermost thoughts of his characters was a serious literary endeavor. In deciding that Ulysses was not obscene and could be admitted into the United States, Judge Woolsey famously stated that “[i]n respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of [Joyce’s] characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring”. His decision was upheld on appeal. The trial and appellate decisions established the standard for determining whether a work is obscene, and set the parameters of freedom of expression.
As a director of the Irish American Bar Association of New York (“IABANY”), I am thrilled to be the chairperson of IABANY’s 2016 Bloomsday Celebration and John Quinn Memorial Address to be held on June 16, 2016 at the National Arts Club. This is the seventh year that IABANY has hosted this event which commemorates Joyce’s epic novel, Ulysses, and its contribution to First Amendment jurisprudence. The centerpiece of the evening is the John Quinn Memorial Address.
This year’s keynote speaker is the Hon. Reena Raggi, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, whose address will center on free speech on college campuses. Judge Raggi will be introduced by the Hon. Carol Bagley Amon, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The event will include a reception and a performance piece based on Ulysses. This is the seventh year that IABANY has hosted this event, which uniquely focuses on the impact Judge Woolsey’s 1933 decision had on First Amendment rights as they relate to freedom of speech and expression. Since its inauguration in 2009, when noted First Amendment attorney, Susan Buckley reviewed the history of censorship in the U.S. since Judge Woolsey’s decision, the John Quinn Memorial Address has addressed several important First Amendment topics, including the interplay of copyright laws with the First Amendment, and the release of classified information. Keynote speakers for this event have included Judge John Gleeson, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Kathleen Sullivan, former Dean of Stanford Law School, Judge Adrian Hardiman, Irish Supreme Court Justice, recently deceased, Judge Gerard Lynch, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Lynn Oberlander, former general counsel for The New Yorker magazine.
The First Amendment is the cornerstone of what makes this country great, and as an immigrant and a U.S. citizen, I am proud to celebrate Bloomsday and the Irish contribution to one of our most important fundamental freedoms.