Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioners, Branzburg, Pappas and Caldwell, newspaper reporters (Petitioners), brought suit seeking a declaration that the freedom of the press extended to personal protection regarding sources and story information.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case stands for the proposition that a reporter is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) insofar as they cannot be compelled to testify regarding their stories.
The Amendment does not reach so far as to override the interest of the public in ensuring that neither reporter nor source is invading the rights of other citizens through reprehensible conduct forbidden to all other persons.View Full Point of Law
Issue. This case considers whether reporters are to be held to the same standards as other citizens, which would subject them to grand jury testimony.
Held. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) held that reporters are subject to grand jury investigations, but in limited circumstances can quash evidence and/or refuse to cooperate under their First Amendment freedom of the press, when their own safety or the identity of an informant would be compromised.
Dissent. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart), in his dissent, held that the Supreme Court’s decision would serve to both suppress the press (for fear of being subject to grand juries) and to deter the administration of justice because reporters would be afforded procedural vehicles which would allow them to get around their duties to testify.
Concurrence. Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) concurred, agreeing that a newsman is not immune from testimony, but rather he is afforded protective, procedural vehicles stemming from his First Amendment constitutional rights as a reporter.
Discussion. There is no “newsman’s privilege” as it has been conceived. Reporters are subject to the same civic duties as are other citizens, but they may use the First Amendment of the Constitution as a shield to protect their sources when they could be compromised.