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First Amendment Research Information

Court Cases - Freedom of the Press

American Civil Liberties Union
Summaries of and ACLU press releases on Supreme Court rulings from several of the Court’s terms.

Search for court cases on any press freedom topic.
Contains synopses and discussion on many important freedom of press cases.

First Amendment Cyber-Tribune
Summaries of the high court's rulings on free press and other issues, beginning with the current term and going back, term by term. Pages will be gradually expanded.

Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center
History of the Supreme Court, biographies of its current justices and detailed discussion of dozens of freedom of press cases from the last 10 years.

Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press
Summarizes recent press freedom decisions and provides press releases on them.

USA Today: The Supreme Court
Recent decisions analyzed and explained, search engine for other decisions that are not posted.

USA Today: Supreme Court Decisions
Browse and search US Supreme Court decisions since 1893.


Court Cases

Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)
The Court forbade judicial “gag orders” to halt news stories that are based on open court proceedings.

Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn (1975)
The Court in its decision of this case barred damage lawsuits brought on by news stories drawn from open court records.

Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)
The Court refused to create a Constitutional right for journalists to refuse to testify when subpoenaed. Thus, the “reporter privilege” would not be established and creation of insulation against surges of subpoenas on the media was not effected. Later, as a result of Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia (1980), reporters were granted freedom and protection to gather some news about the government without interference.

Estes v. Texas (1965)
The Court reversed the conviction of Billie Sol Estes on charges of swindling because the trial judge had allowed broadcast media coverage of the trial. The Court acknowledged that maximum freedom of the press must be allowed to the coverage of the court proceedings on order to uphold the spirit of a democratic society. However, the absolute fairness of the judicial process must be maintained as well. The Court ruled that the press is entitled to the exact and same rights as the general public. Thus, reporters are not allowed to bring typewriters, presses or other tools of transmitting the story, into the court. The significance of this case is that the flat ban on televised criminal trials was opened up.

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
An “editorial advertisement endorsing the Negro right to vote movement and criticizing actions taken by L.B. Sullivan, an elected commissioner in Montgomery, was the issue of this case. A $500,000 verdict was returned by a jury against the Times and others named in the suit. This is the noteworthy case that made libel a federal constitutional question for the first time. Justice William Brennan applied his newly developed theory of “social utility of free expression” to this case, which would free the press to more closely monitor the government and encourage the rise of modern investigative journalism. The Supreme Court invalidated Alabama’s libel law. It was the Court’s opinion that alleged libelous statements do not forfeit protections of the First Amendment just because they are paid advertisements. This case also set the standard used in judging libel cases involving public officials as well as laying the foundation for invasion of privacy lawsuits.