Robert M. O’Neil, an authority on First Amendment issues, is a lawyer, professor, and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. He frequently writes amicus curiae briefs on First Amendment cases that reach the Supreme Court.

O’Neil was born in Boston. After earning undergraduate, master’s, and law degrees from Harvard University, he clerked for Supreme Court justice William J. Brennan Jr. for the 1962–1963 term. After his clerkship, O’Neil entered academia at the University of California, Berkeley. He flourished as both professor and administrator, serving in turn as provost of the University of Cincinnati, vice president at Indiana University, and president of the University of Wisconsin. In 1985 O’Neil became the president of the University of Virginia, a position he held until 1990, when he became the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The organization, which advocates on behalf of free expression issues, has close ties to the university.

O’Neil has written numerous books related to the First Amendment. Among them are The First Amendment and Civil Liability (2001), Free Speech in the College Community (1997), The Rights of Public Employees: The Basic ACLU Guide to the Rights of Public Employees (1993), and Classrooms in the Crossfire: The Rights and Interests of Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and the Community (1981).

Throughout his academic career, O’Neil has taught classes on the First Amendment. He currently teaches several such classes at the School of Law at the University of Virginia.

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