McGeorge School of Law

Calvert Explores Expansion Of Familial Rights

February 24, 2011

Clay Calvert, '91, the Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication at the University of Florida, is teaching Constitutional Law at his legal alma mater this spring as a visiting professor.

On February 21, 2011, the McGeorge alumnus got to lecture some of his old professors as he delivered a talk on "Newsworthiness and the Privacy of Death" as part of the law school's faculty colloquium series.

Calvert, who has a PhD in communication from Stanford University, is a nationally known scholar. Prior to joining the Florida faculty, he taught at Pennsylvania State University where he co-founded the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment. He has written several books dealing with that topic, most notably Voyeur Nation - the first scholarly book to examine the 21st century phenomena of reality TV shows.

Calvert's latest research and writing focuses on the expansion of privacy rights to family members of a deceased person. Several courts and state legislatures have extended familial rights controlling access to, and use of, death scene pictures even in the case of public figures.

"Especially in the age of the Internet, there is a collision between First Amendment rights and the potential for emotional distress of surviving family members," Calvert said. "We have seen legislative responses that carve out exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act and state open-records laws. These affect tort laws and expand tort remedies."

Calvert believes the media is making a mistake in pressing First Amendment rights in every case that comes down the road. "The news media needs to pick its battles and choose cases where there is an actual public need to know," he said. "It's far too easy to trot out 'the public's right to know' each time, and some of that right to know is being eroded by their unpopular actions."