Brief Fact Summary.
Near published articles in a newspaper called The Saturday Press, accusing local officials of being associated with gang activity. Under a Minnesota statute, the state secured a court order that abated the Saturday Press and perpetually enjoined them from publishing “malicious, scandalous or defamatory newspaper[s].”
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A statute authorizing the prior restraint of a news publication is unconstitutional. However, prior restraints may be allowed in exceptional cases, such as when the nation is at war, or when the speech would incite violence.
Liberty, in each of its phases, has its history and connotation.View Full Point of Law
In a Minneapolis newspaper called The Saturday Press, Near accused local officials of being associated with gang activity. Under a statute that authorized abatement of a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper” the state secured a court order that abated the Saturday Press and perpetually enjoined the defendants from publishing or circulating “any publication whatsoever which is a malicious, scandalous or defamatory newspaper.” The order did not restrain the defendants from operating a newspaper “in harmony with the general welfare.”
Does the Minnesota statute violate the free press provision of the First Amendment?
Yes, the Minnesota statute violated the free press provision of the First Amendment.
This decision exposes every community and the business and private affairs of every individual to the false and malicious assaults of any insolvent publisher who may desire to publish untrue accusations for oppression, blackmail, or extortion purposes.
The Minnesota statute constitutes a prior restraint and is thus invalid under the First Amendment. As a constitutional principle, the government may not censor or otherwise prohibit a publication in advance, even if the communication might be punishable after publication in a criminal or other proceeding. There are certain exceptions to this general rule – for example, when speech is obscene, incites violence, or reveals military secrets, the government might be able to justify a prior restraint.
However, these exceptions apply only in certain exceptional circumstances. Absent such exceptional circumstances, subsequent punishment for certain publications deemed abuses is the appropriate remedy, consistent with constitutional privilege.