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U.S. Const. amend. I, far from providing an argument against application of the Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, provides powerful reasons to the contrary. U.S. Const. amend. I rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. A command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom.
Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests. U.S. Const. amend. I affords not the slightest support for the contention that a combination to restrain trade in news and views has any constitutional immunity.
The by-laws of the appellant Associated Press (“AP”), a cooperative association engaged in gathering and distributing news in interstate and foreign commerce, prohibited service of AP news to non-members, prohibited members from furnishing spontaneous news to non-members, and empowered members to block membership applications of competitors. A contract between AP and a Canadian press association obligated both to furnish news exclusively to each other. Charging inter alia that the by-laws and the contract violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Government sought an injunction against AP and member publishers. Upon the Government's motion, the District Court rendered summary judgment, asserting that the by-Laws unlawfully restricted admission to AP membership, and violated the Sherman Act insofar as the By-Laws' provisions clothed a member with powers to impose or dispense with conditions upon the admission of his business competitor. Thereafter, Associated Press challenged the District Court’s judgment, arguing that the application of the Sherman Act the Associated Press constituted an abridgment of the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Did the by-laws of the Associated Press violate the Sherman Antitrust Act, thereby, justifying the District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Government?
The Supreme Court held that by-laws of the Associated Press unlawfully restricted admission into the membership for the publishers' association and violated the Sherman Act, 26 Stat. 209, insofar as the by-laws' provisions clothed a member with powers to impose or dispense with conditions upon the admission of his business competitor. As such, the Court ruled that the district court appropriately issued injunctions and granted the government's motion for summary judgment. The Court held that there was no injury to appellant as a result of the summary proceedings. According to the Court, the appellant was not entitled to have a different and more favorable kind of trial procedure than all other persons covered by the Sherman Act. The evidence did not fail to show that appellant’s reports, which could be attributable to its own enterprise and sagacity, were clothed in the robes of indispensability. The Court held that arrangements or combinations designed to stifle competition could not be immunized by adoption of a membership device accomplishing that purpose. The Court concluded that the application of the Act to appellant did not constitute an abridgment of the freedom of the press guaranteed by U.S. Const. amend. I.