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Near v. Minnesota - 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625 (1931)

Rule:

The recognition of authority to impose previous restraint upon publication in order to protect the community against the circulation of charges of misconduct, and especially of official misconduct, necessarily would carry with it the admission of the authority of the censor against which the constitutional barrier was erected. The preliminary freedom, by virtue of the very reason for its existence, does not depend on proof of truth. 

Facts:

A 1925 Minnesota Act provided for the abatement, as a public nuisance, of a "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical." Defendant appellant Near published articles that charged in substance that a Jewish gangster was in control of gambling, bootlegging and racketeering in Minneapolis, and that law enforcing officers and agencies were not energetically performing their duties. Under the statute, an injunction was issued against defendant to prohibit it from printing its newspaper based on claims that it was malicious, lewd, and defamatory. The defendant argued that the statute unfairly denied it liberty of press because an injunction issued under the statute would restrain any future newspaper publication. The state appellate court affirmed. Defendant appellant sought further review.

Issue:

Does the issuance of an injunction, pursuant to a 1925 state nuisance law, prohibiting the publication of the article by defendant newspaper violate its freedom of speech and of the press?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the previous rulings. The Court held that the Minnesota nuisance statute of 1925, as applied against the newspaper publisher, infringed the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The language of the statute at issue placed a prior restraint on the newspaper publisher to avoid language that might not be protected, thereby denying him the right of publication. This freedom, by virtue of its very reason for its existence, did not depend on proof of truth. The Court explained that the Minnesota statute cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good motives and for justifiable ends. If such a statute, authorizing suppression and injunction on such a basis, is constitutionally valid, it would be equally permissible for the legislature to provide that at any time the publisher of any newspaper could be brought before a court. The Court concluded that, so far as it authorized the proceedings in this action under the 1925 statute, to be an infringement of the liberty of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court qualified its holding by adding that the instant decision rests upon the operation and effect of the statute, without regard to the question of the truth of the charges contained in the defendant's periodical.

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