Hundreds of publishing staff have taken to Google to demand that Penguin Random House cancel Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s forthcoming book—all while professing to value free speech. Why? Because the letter’s authors are vexed that Justice Barrett voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue of abortion to the people and their elected representatives.

This is just the latest attack on Justice Barrett. Keith Olbermann infamously singled out and attempted to denigrate the accomplished Justice by labeling her alone among the justices typically thought to be more conservative a “paralegal.” And after a draft opinion of the Dobbs decision leaked, Justice Barrett’s family was subject to repeated protests at her home—despite her young children and despite a federal law that forbids trying to influence a judicial decision.

Justice Barrett’s forthcoming book will rebut these attacks. It will no doubt display the legal acumen of an accomplished academic who has risen to the top of her profession while also being a devoted wife and mother of seven. Justice Barrett’s life is an inspiration to many young women.

Justice Barrett’s book will explain that the Constitution requires judges to interpret rather than make law. This premise is an important one that is wholly misunderstood by the letter’s authors. The Supreme Court is not a super-legislature. Rather, the Constitution entrusts the ability to make law to the elected branches. And for good reason. Those elected representatives can be held accountable for the laws they create.

The Supreme Court on the other hand is unaccountable—by design. The Framers intended that the Court be able to exercise its independent judgment in interpreting the law without fear of political reprisal.

These twin principles are liberty-reinforcing. As James Madison reminded us, the constitution’s separation of powers secures our freedoms because they require all three branches of government to work together before individual liberty may be constrained.   

The letter gets the Dobbs decision wrong because it misunderstands these fundamental principles. Because the COnstitution nowhere contains a right to abortion, that decision returned to the people and their elected officials the fiercely debated issue. It did not impose Justice Barrett’s “religious and moral agenda” on anyone. That’s why some states have expanded abortion access since Dobbs and why many still permit elective abortion for any reason up until birth.

The letter’s authors claim to value free speech all while demanding that one of the largest publishers in the world cancel Justice Barrett. They assert that free speech must be balanced with a “duty of care.” But that begs the question of who decides what that duty of care encompasses. It gets First Amendment principles backwards.

As the Supreme Court explained in New York Times v. Sullivan, that Amendment reflects “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” And as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. explained, that principle protects those we agree with and those we disagree with. To use cancel culture as a trump card to silence free speech is something that even the New York Times Editorial Board has called  “dangerous.” The Editorial Board went on, “For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.”  

The open letter claims that Penguin Random House is “misusing free speech to destroy our rights.” Yet it is the letter’s authors that misunderstand free speech. As Thomas Jefferson presciently wrote in 1814, “Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy?” Shall we be told “what we are to read, and what we must believe?”

Surely not.

One can hope that Penguin Random House will not cave to the latest attempt to silence an individual with whom the liberal left disagrees.