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Law School Case Brief

Miami Herald Pub. Co., Div. of Knight Newspapers, Inc. v. Tornillo - 418 U.S. 241, 94 S. Ct. 2831 (1974)

Rule:

The choice of material to go into a newspaper and the decisions made as to limitations on the size and content of the paper, and treatment of public issues and public officials--whether fair or unfair--constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment. It has yet to be demonstrated how governmental regulation of this crucial process can be exercised consistent with the guarantees of a free press under the First Amendment, as those guarantees have evolved.

Facts:

A Miami, Florida newspaper which had published articles critical of Pat Tornillo, a candidate for a state office, refused to print the Tornillo's replies. Tornillo brought an action in the Circuit Court, Dade County, Florida, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages under the Florida "right to reply" statute which granted a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper. The Circuit Court held that the statute was an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but the Florida Supreme Court, finding no violation of constitutional guarantees, reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Issue:

Was the Florida "right to reply" statute which granted a political candidate a right to equal space to reply to criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper constitutional?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court found that the statute operated as a command in the same sense as a statute or regulation forbidding appellant to publish specified matter. The Court found that the statute exacted a penalty on the basis of the content of a newspaper because the compelled printing of a reply interfered with editorial judgment about the choice of material to go into the newspaper and how public issues and officials were treated. Editors might avoid controversy in the face of such penalties, and political and electoral coverage could be impacted. The statute thus interfered with guarantees of a free press under the First Amendment.

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