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Clear and present danger of substantive evils as a result of indiscriminate publications regarding judicial proceedings justifies an impairment of the constitutional right of freedom of speech and press only if the evils are extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high.
Bridges, herein petitioners, a newspaper, associated individuals, and a labor leader, filed petitions for writ of certiorari from the decisions from the Supreme Court of California in two cases challenging the affirmance of convictions and sentences for contempt of court entered by respondent state court. In one case, the newspaper and associated individuals were held in contempt of court based on three editorials published in the newspaper regarding a pending case. In another case, the labor leader was held in contempt based on a telegram he sent to the Secretary of Labor regarding a pending case. The cases were consolidated on appeal. These two cases, while growing out of different circumstances and concerning different parties, both relate to the scope of national constitutional policy safeguarding free speech and a free press. All of the petitioners were adjudged guilty and fined for contempt of court by the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Their conviction rested upon comments pertaining to pending litigation which were published in newspapers. Petitioners challenged the convictions as an unconstitutional abridgement of freedom of speech and of the press. The Superior Court overruled this contention, and the Supreme Court affirmed.
Was there an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom of speech and freedom of the press?
Yes. The court granted the petitions for writ of certiorari and reversed the convictions and sentences.
The United States Supreme Court found that those freedoms could not have been permissibly abridged unless the words used were in such circumstances and of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they would have caused a substantive evil. The worst of the editorials merely threatened future adverse criticism if the state court ruled a particular way, which criticism should have been reasonably expected anyway. The telegram, also, merely threatened a strike in response to a state court's ruling in a pending case- a consequence that could reasonably have been expected. The Court found that neither the editorials nor the telegram could possibly have caused the substantive evil of unfair disposition of the cases.